Serious question: how did campaigns function before we became followers? The success of a candidate in this election lies completely in the hands of the voting public, with our twitchy social-networking fingers scrolling through their every move.
A decade or so ago, the internet would have revolutionised the race for the White House, but what was to follow would unlock even bigger potential.
In a 2012 report by the Pew Research Centre, it was found that 66% of American social network users utilised their online lives to engage in politics. Whether ‘following’ candidates, ‘liking’ policies, ‘sharing’ proposals or ‘joining’ support groups, they digitally asserted themselves to become part of the conversation.
And that’s the key. Interaction.
The internet was a game-changer, but social networking upped the stakes. According to a separate report by the Pew Research Centre, online platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are the fastest growing source of political news for the American public. Since January of this year – when the candidate selection process and race for the White House began – the number of Americans who say they regularly use social networks to learn about the campaign has doubled.
A couple of elections ago, the innovation of the internet gave us the luxury of logging on to update ourselves on the candidates’ progress. We suddenly had the power to be more than an audience of the news being presented to us, we could do our own research to understand the full story, from outlets as diverse as official polls and unverified blogs.
Yes, we could keep up with the campaign, but more fool the person who believes that that’s a term interchangeable with actually following it.
Now, in terms of Twitter, we can receive breaking news by the second. If we miss it, we can spot it trending, search it and catch up. A simple hash-tag links us with anyone in the world thinking along the same lines. If anything, there are more opinions on the internet; particularly popular or controversial ones will find their way to us if we’re practicing what the networks preach and vying to stay connected.
For me, during this election, social networking has provided every sub-plot. From the words of @BarackObama and @MittRomney, straight from the horse’s mouth – or should I say, account – to the chapters like #Sandy which overshadowed their monologues. When I had nothing to add with my 140 characters, I could happily peruse other people’s. There, I watched minor characters, like Donald Trump, stealing the spotlight and even relatively unknowns making headlines for their virtual contributions to the campaign.
Social networking has provided context for this campaign from every corner of its reach. It’s given us facts, rumours, opinions, talking-points, and it’s giving us them consistently because once you follow, you’re hooked.
Where would our project be without it?
Since we first logged on as NewsLabBU, we’ve made friends across the world. We’ve had weekly Skype meetings with our colleagues at UMASS, who will be using FaceTime via iPhone to bring us live hourly updates on election night from Romney HQ.
After a successful twitter plea, we got a quote from Fleet Street Fox after her virtual participation in Question Time’s US election special (which, by the way, we were watching and tweeting about live from the newsroom). A few hours earlier, I’d been trying to convey a proper ‘thank-you’ – in 140 characters or less – to the Vice Presidential candidate who’d forgiven my bad maths about our time differences and been kind enough to give an exclusive phone interview from across the pond.
On the night itself, we’ll have a group of live bloggers documenting every element of the election as it unfolds. Our twitter team will be breaking the latest news and re-tweeting the best comments from around the atmosphere so that you don’t have to look any further. The busy people from The Hub will be producing news across all platforms while the results team pour over every development as, one by one, hour by hour, each swing-state vote is cast and counted until the next president is named.
The fact that, at this stage in the game, none of us can be sure who that person will be only adds to our excitement of going live on the night. We hope you follow us, we promise to keep you hooked, and as for the result which will trend in every conversation come November 7th… #WatchThisSpace