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Social Media and its effect on Political Participation

Social Media and its effect on Political Participation
Ivan Vivar
POSC 300
Professor Mycoff

The growth of social media has affected the lives of people significantly. We are now able to stay constantly informed on several fields of interest, sports, literature, film, and politics. Athlete’s blockbuster contract deals and trade rumors spread like wildfire in part because of social media. The first eyewitness accounts of the raid on the Osama Bin Laden complex in Pakistan was expressed through twitter. As well it provides a simple to access venue for government figures to connect with citizens.
Social media is a medium that is enjoyable for several reasons. It has ability to keep us constantly informed as we are obsessed and refresh the page several times a day. Media presence is real strong within social media and the news they share is often lost in traditional forms of communication. The exposure to opinions, primarily political encourages constituents to become informed about local, state, and federal issues. Once informed constituents can access profiles to candidates who share viewpoints similar to theirs. If constituents are able to find a candidate who shares their view points, then they will be more willing to politically active for that candidate. Thus as social media usage increases so will the highest form of political activism, voting, because social media allows constituents exposure to candidates they can fully support.

Compared to the capabilities of today the internet when it was first available for public use during electoral season was primitive. “In 1996, the first candidates to use the Internet employed Web sites as simple digital yard signs for their campaigns (Casey 1996)” (Towner, 165). The internet and its true potential were nowhere near close to being fulfilled during the Clinton v. Dole campaign. The internet’s technical development allowed it to become more practical in various manners. It certainly became more influential in political campaigns as it developed. During the next two Presidential elections the internet became primarily important for being a tool to raise money quickly and efficiently. Candidates were happy to be a part of a record breaking innovation to raise money for their campaigns. Howard Dean in 2004 set the benchmark for how to use the internet successfully. The Dean campaign built on previous successes and continued to break fundraising records, at one point raising $4 million per day
(Price 2004) and raising $27 million online during the campaign (Towner, 166). More impressive was the manner in which Dean was able to mobilize his supporters to have reunions. It was a tactic never before tried that had real success in gathering his supporters together.
Further advancements of the internet allowed it to be even more impactful tool for candidates. In 2008 Web 2.0 took the world by storm. Sites like MySpace, Facebook, Blogs, and YouTube grew in subscribers and visitors. It became so significant during that election cycle that both Hilary Clinton and John Edwards announced their candidacies through a YouTube video. These Web 2.0 tools became extrmely important to campaign managers:
“The advantage of Web 2.0 tools is that politicians can control the information flow, something that journalists and media organizations have traditionally managed during an election campaign. That is, the power of mainstream media players to control when and how candidates are presented to the public is diluted. Now, politicians can use Web 2.0 tools to directly shape the way a story is viewed by the mass public” (Towner, 167).

The ability to control a candidate’s message to his constituents is important in defending a criticism, or to explain their agenda. As well sometimes these sites can have negative consequences as Candidates and their affiliates are under constant scrutiny. As was seen when Obama was negatively attacked because of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s former pastor and his provocative speeches.
Today it is tremendously easy to access any of these Web 2.0 resources on the internet. In fact there is an argument that people are obsessed with them and because of that we visit these sites frequently through the day. The Web 2.0 resources allow us to follow the insight and opinion of media, and political commentators. Those commentators have the opportunity to explain topics that might have been foreign to us beforehand. With the availability to understand political topics, issues, and candidates in a forum we enjoy; how do constituents react? With better understanding of political topics, issues, and candidates are constituents more willing to become politically active for their beliefs? I believe that as citizens become more exposed to the political knowledge shared within social media; it will result in a passionate belief on salient issues and endorsement of particular candidates by voting for them during elections.
It is a fact that eligible first time voters are not as politically active as are older constituents. There are various reasons why they might chose to not participate in our democratic rights. Ignorance and apathy are perhaps two of the main reasons for first time voters’ lack of participation. It is important for first time voters to get engaged politically because their input is necessary to create a political and social environment that respects the rights and needs of all age groups. The issue of political participation goes beyond first time voters, anyone who does not engage themselves politically will lose out on what values are important to them. Thus whatever venues or mediums improve political awareness and involvement should be encouraged
Regarding the need for greater political activism within America, I wish to explain how social media positively affects activism. Through literary evidence from political journal and actual raw statistical data a correlation of social media usage and political activism will be expressed. As the acceptance of social media as a politically informative tool grows, political activism will grow too, because social media allows constituents to discover more about political issues and candidates that they will support through activism.
Since the resources within the internet are vast and almost never ending, the statistical analysis will include specific domain resources, mainly focusing on a few web domains that are regarded as the most popular. Google+, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and YouTube were selected as independent variables in my data. These web resources are user generated content, and is outside the general corporate agenda of mainstream media. Also they are chosen because they allow the public to directly respond to that user’s personal message. A response to a tweet is significant because it is a formulated thought for or against is being expressed by the reader. Political activism has no scale in which it can be directly measured.
Still the likelihood a person will perform the greatest act of democracy, voting, can be discovered and analyzed. Since I want to study the effect of social media on a person’s willingness to become politically active, my dependent variable will be the response to the question “What is the percent chance that you will vote in the election for the President of the United States in 2012?” The likelihood of voting is recorded in percentage signifying there is a chance that a response can be zero percent; this measurement is ratio because it is meaningful to the study if there is a zero percent chance that you will vote. The variables that will affect the likelihood of a person voting are the important independent variable. The questions to the survey participants are “How much have you used the following to learn about the election for President?” in relation to the already mentioned domains selected. Their response choices are: “No answer,” “Not at all,” “A little,” “A moderate amount,” “A lot,” “A great deal”. The data of the responses are measured ordinal. They are ordinal because the order of the responses signifies a sequence of the amount of information received through the domains.
The data to receive all this information was done through a series of surveys by the American National Election Studies. Its “chief aims of the surveys are to measure public opinion in advance of the 2012 election” (Evaluations 2010). The experiment can be described as a correlational research design. The purpose of this type of experiment design is to examine the covariation between two variables. Covariance is a measure of how much two random variables change together. Thus my research wanted to discover how much usage of the domains changed the subject’s percentage of likeliness to vote in the 2012 election. Correlational research designs are flawed in that their results, negative or positive, cannot definitely state a cause. The statement “correlation but not causation” must be remembered. The results of this design are still up for further debate or study because a third factor unknown to the researchers can affect the data. Still the positives for this type of design are significant. The sample used to take the survey represents the nation’s opinion. As well it is in some regards much simpler to proctor because recipients are not asked to do much besides periodically answer questions through the internet. As well the results can serve as a jumping off point for future references to fully answer the question.
In this experiment the results yielded interesting responses. The summary statistics of the data give one broad overview of the survey results. In total data was collected from 1,189 respondents, with an estimated completion rate of 60%. Unfortunately the statistical summaries contradict my belief that people are flocking to learn information from the proposed domains, 60.75 was the mean of the frequency in which people used them to learn about the Presidential election. The mean of the people planning to participate in the Presidential election was 86.09. Interesting is that the standard deviation of those planning to participate is a high number of 30.4%. The overall responses of the question to participating are not compact and some responses are highly different from the mean.
Furthermore my hypothesis of all the domains being significant to the likely subject to vote is contradicted. SPSS deemed that only the answers to the knowledge gained by Blogs and Facebook are significant. Knowledge about the Presidential Election gained from Google+, YouTube, and twitter were not significant in their correlation to the likelihood of voting. In the model summary box the multiple R correlation of the two significant variables equals .139b. The R square value of the model is variant to the independent variable by .019; its adjusted R square for the sample is practically the same at .018.
Significant to the analysis of the data is The ANOVA table which tests sequentially the significance of the model as it adds more independent variable, we use to it to predict the influence of using social media like Facebook and blogs on the likelihood to vote in the 2012 Presidential Election. The F ratio is the test statistic used to decide whether the model as a whole has statistically merit to capably predict the likelihood of voting in the 2012 Presidential elections. These independent variables do not give an accurate prediction since the F variable is only 12.4 and nowhere near a large enough value to not make the model null; also the degree of freedom to interpret the model is very small with 2/1250.
After analyzing my data results it is illogical for me to say that social media interaction increased the likelihood for constituents to get politically active and vote. Still I believe that after careful literature review it will be evident that social media can create a culture of informing ourselves about political topics. That culture forming from political knowledge will then result an environment that will highly encourage political activism.
Social networks are the connections that exist among individuals and
Institutions as they engage in their everyday activities. Social network tools like Facebook and Twitter make people more aware of the social objects that are networks (McClug, 729). Network analysis is useful in several manners, if there is a lack of flow between communications networks help find the solution, also since networks are daily interactions it helps build trust between parties. Most important is that “networks may be the best way to make sense of behavior when Multiple levels of organization are involved” (McClurg, 730). Federalism, bureaucracy, and grassroots politics are settings in which network analysis is likely to provide insight to the overlapping organizational structure. Social media allows these positive results of political cooperation to be shared across the world instantaneously. Even creating discussion or building relationship between parties in political activism. It is activism because the idea to express ideas without being persecuted is a democratic ideal.
Furthermore a factor I think I forgot to take into consideration was the age of the respondents in our data. By not including age into my multiple regression model I could have missed out on the significance of age as a predictor of Presidential voting. In the experiment ran by Kristoffer Holt and the European Journal of Communication their hypothesis stated that although more offline political engagement increased with age. There is significant statistical data that younger constituents are more involved with social media dealing with political current affairs. “The age gap is larger for some forms of social media use though, such as reading a blog about politics and current affairs (33% among the youngest group compared to 21% in the oldest group)” (Holt, 26). In their report they had two key hypotheses, stating that “Use of social media will have a positive effect on political interest. Use of social media for political purposes will have a positive effect on offline participation” (Holt, 24). Their data results presented in Table 2. show that when it comes to social media younger constituents are significantly more involved than the older ones. Specifically when it came to informing themselves on a political issue through a blog, 33% of 18-33 year olds were politically active in the regard. As well they expressed their thoughts and used their freedom of speech on the internet by commenting on a blog post 13.8% during a month as opposed to 65-74 year olds who did so 7.0 of the time. In the journal’s conclusion it stated that: “greater presence of young people in internet politics increases political participation among the young, and if these trends are sustained, they may result in greater overall levels of political interest and activity in the future” (Holt, 29). Traditional forms of political activism and methods of remaining current on political news are indeed down among younger constituents. Yet that does not mean that they are not politically active. It is time to create new definitions and practices to political activism. “Following” a candidate on Twitter or “liking” their Facebook page is political activism since it allows you to understand the candidate and to read his ideals.
Furthermore the results of my data that social media does not affect political participation is challenged by Lu Chen and his journal entry. In it he states that social data expressed through Twitter can predict election outcomes (Chen, 379). The context of the tweets were taken into account, was the message more liberal or conservative? Also was the tweet original, or was a retweet of someone else’s ideas. As well was the substance of the tweet more of an informative tweet or did it express an opinion. Lastly they “use the number of tweets posted by a user to measure his/her engagement degree. The less tweets a user posts, the more challenging the user’s voting intent can be predicted” (Chen, 382).
Their study predicted whom the use would vote for on Super Tuesday across 10 states using all their tweets and a formula that took into account all the positive and negative tweets relating to each candidate in order to measure support. The highest score for a candidate in their study indicated who the user was voting for (Chen, 387). To predict the results of the election users were separated by state they were from and where the primaries were occurring. They also accounted all the tweets from a single day starting at 56 days away, 28, 14, and 7 days away from the primary. “With each group of users in a specific state and a specific time window, we counted the users’ votes for each candidate, and the one who received the most votes was predicted as the winner of the election in that state. The performance of a prediction was evaluated in two ways: (1) whether the predicted winner is the actual winner, and (2) comparing the predicted percentage of votes for each candidate with his actual percentage of votes, and getting the mean absolute error (MAE) of the four candidates” (Chen,388). His table of mean absolute error is very impressive. None of the sub groups classified scored above 1. The smallest error came from the group that was in the sub category of retweeters.
The fact that Lu Chen and his staff’s prediction had a low MAE is highly impressive. It certainly speaks volumes to the quality of discussion being shared on Twitter. The sustenance of the tweets expressed ideas that were easy to follow and allowed for sound predictions. To a certain degree this activity on Twitter is comparable to campaign volunteers going door to door canvassing for a candidate. Since the study shows it had tremendous accuracy, I believe that the discussion involved on social media is important in the culture of a democratic society.
The activism attributed to social media goes just beyond discussion and being informative it can create a real sense of change. It is obvious that state leaders across the globe are aware of the effects social media can carry. If that were not true then former Burma President Hosni Mubarak would have not suspended all internet and mobile connection in his state. Jillian York of Harvard’s Berkman center for Internet and Society clearly aggress “Clearly, what’s rattled the government is the major role that social media has played in the protests rocking the country’s cities, including Cairo. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and even Google Docs have been used in unprecedented ways this time around – both for coordination and for disseminating news” (Ayangwe).
Additionally social media has given a voice to the citizens within developing nations of the world. Social media has grown so that voices from all corner of the globe can be read and acknowledged. This is particularly useful because it removes the stereotype that there is only one narrative in the society of developing nations, a phrase Nigerian writer Adichie calls “the danger of a single story” (How). Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube now allow are also being used to replace staid development paradigms, by organising and developing African-driven institutions (How). Campaigns like Kony 2012 were criticized heavily across the world but especially in Africa. Kony 2012 was very simplistic and did not address the heart of the issue, something that social media is attempting to create a venue for. Facebook and Twitter foster discussion that took an idea and made permanent transformational institutes. Non-profits to foster healthy social development in Africa are now starting to become domestic initiative and not western campaigns that did not truly create sustainable development. “With the poor taking the role of nameless statistics, charts and figures, we decided to give them a face by bringing the microphone to them. Social media injected their voice into the global goals discussion. To my knowledge, Villages in Action was the first diaspora-led development project fully crowd-funded and executed through online engagement” (How). How far social media foster discussions about development can is unsure; but if domestic institutions need help they can send a tweet across the world for advice.
In conclusion social media fosters an environment where citizens can discuss political topics and then cooperate with other interested members to get involved in political activism. The old schemas of what constituted political activism is in need of including modern developments. Although my data research did not show a strong correlation in the likelihood of voting and the frequency of social media use, the literature review I conducted shows otherwise. Social media is becoming very present in our society, through globalization our thoughts can be shared with ease across oceans. The ability to cooperate to expand on a political idea and create something to benefit the world is a result of social media.


(Anyangwe, 2013)
(Chen, Wang, and Sheth, 2012)
(Evaluation of Government and Society Study 2010)
(Holt, Shehata, Strömbäck, and Ljunberg 2013)
(How the African diaspora is using social media to influence development, 2013)
(McClurg and Heaney 2009)
(Towner, and Dulio 2011)


One comment on “Social Media and its effect on Political Participation

  1. Pingback: Social media plays growing role in politics but is not decisive, scholar says | Bonus Republic

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This entry was posted on July 3, 2013 by .
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