2012 was a record-breaking year in terms of social media as the Presidential Election produced staggeringly high counts of user interaction on many social media platforms both leading up to and during the election process. Twitter itself recorded over 31 million tweets during election coverage, making it the most tweeted-about political event ever, while the Fox News website counted over 28 million visits the day of (the highest number of unique visits since the site’s creation 16 years ago). As for post-election material, a single picture of the re-elected President embracing his wife, Michelle, with the simple caption of “Four more years” has itself garnered over 800,000 re-tweets and nearly 4.5 million Facebook likes. On Tumblr, Obama’s presence amounted to nearly 75,000 mentions the day of the election–a true testament to his mastery of social media as a presidential candidate.
But why is this information important? An article on Mashable.com by Alex Fitzpatrick entitled So Did Social Media ‘Predict’ the Election? puts it into perspective by indirectly pointing out the connection between the election and social media statistics: politics is a topic with an enormous scope of influence, and social media is one of the most widely-used platforms for self-expression and discourse (the natural assumption drawn from these observations being, of course, that the massive social media population will use social media platforms as discussion outlets for politics). Fitzpatrick article goes even further in questioning the idea that not only is a candidate’s social media following and presence indicative of the important demographic-reaching role social media has had and will have in political elections, but that perhaps data collected from social media may be useful in analyzing trends and extrapolating data to predict probable election results as well.
This is far from saying that a candidate’s potential for victory or loss is directly tied to the number of followers he/she has on Twitter or the number of likes his/her Facebook page has. Fitzpatrick does, however, point out the increasingly important idea of a type of data processing called “sentiment analysis,” whereby social media data pools can be analyzed to determine the general feelings of various social media producers towards specific candidates. Something that accompanies this is that a candidate’s involvement in social media is inevitably becoming more and more important in determining the type of sentiment he/she generates among social media users. Barack Obama, for example, seems to be the first election candidate to have adopted the coded and highly complex language of GIFs.
There’s no question about it: social media is a dominating force in today’s society, and it’s important that we keep a close eye on its increasing role in not only politics, but education, the economy, and our personal lives as well. Before you know it, we’ll be tweeting our ballots on @ElectionDay.