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10/29/2009
07:07 PM
Michael Hickins
Michael Hickins
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Social Media Influence Elections, Not Laws

We've seen how social media like Twitter and Facebook can be used as part of a winning election strategy, but the same tools don't seem to influence elected officials or public policy.

We've seen how social media like Twitter and Facebook can be used as part of a winning election strategy, but the same tools don't seem to influence elected officials or public policy.Maybe it's because elected officials are rarely on Facebook or Twitter themselves -- those posts you see are from their proxies. Or maybe there's something different about the dynamic when it comes to generating momentum for or against a given law -- it's easier to get excited about a person than a law -- but there's also more fragmentation in cyberspace.

What I mean is, it's pretty easy to coalesce electronic activity -- both for and against -- around a particular candidate. Particularly when a social-media-savvy manager is running a campaign, it's fairly easy to ensure that the "official" Facebook page or Twitter account gets all the hits.

But it's very different with issues, even big ones, because no one owns an issue the same way a campaign manager owns a candidate.

For instance, look through Facebook for a page or group supporting (or opposing) health care reform, and you'll get more than 500 of them, but none with much, if any, traction. ("No Health Care Reform" has barely more than 1,100 members, while "Health Care Reform Now!" has 15 members. On the other hand, there are hundreds more pro health care reform groups than those opposed. A compelling argument to bring to your representative? Not so much.)

How about credit card reform? Now that credit card reform has passed, credit card issuers are insinuating themselves into every loophole they can find, and while there are over a hundred groups and petitions asking members of Congress to stop credit card companies from trying to circumvent the spirit of the law, most groups have under a hundred members.

It's also very hard to find groups because search results on Facebook are much too broad, even when narrowed by category. The surest way to find a group is when you get a message that one of your friends has joined up.

The social networks aren't in the business of creating "official" pages or, in the case of Twitter, hash marks, and they shouldn't start. Ultimately, it's up to us to figure out how to use these networks to mobilize people online. After all, politics doesn't stop on Election Day.

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