Jesse Jackson by you.

On September 26, 2006, Facebook became available to anyone with an e-mail address over the age of 13.  Currently, Facebook has over 120 million users worldwide.  According to the AP, voter turnout this year was over 136 million (Borenstein).   This year’s election saw the highest voter turnout in decades.  While this cannot be entirely attributed to Facebook or social-networking alone, the style and methods of campaigning will not think twice about the ways in which social networks engage participation in the political process.

One of the most widely used social-networking services, Facebook encourages communication through things like “status updates”, “superpokes”, “groups”, “causes” and so on.  Among these social-networking options, organizations and political campaigns have taken the lead in using the Facebook site to develop extensive campaigns of politics-not-as-usual via social networking.  I believe the Obama Facebook campaign understood two major concepts about monitorial citizenship, which helped make the Obama race to the White House successful; the elimination of the “punditocracy” and the understanding of and interest in youth culture via intelligently designed social networks (Facebook and social-networked websites, text messaging, phone banking, & visual graphics – to name a few).

First, while many of us look to news media – including paper, internet, magazine, tv, radio, and other forms of traditional media – for input and ideas for sharing thoughts and creating opinions about a current political campaign – traditional media has faced a lot of criticism of the last 8 years, especially when it comes to election results.  With the emergence of such criticism, as well as the increasing accessability to open-source tools like blogging, non-traditional outlets have redefined the ways we engage with sources of news authority.  The rapid production of news additionally accelerates our ability to digest multiple medias at once.  We may be reading news on our Blackberries while listening to a podcast from, or we may be reading our Facebook page for links to sources our friends are reading.  Rather than overwhelming ourselves with the multitude of media sources outside our realm of readership ability (no matter how astute we may be), we look to recommendations from friends and colleagues on what to read.

These form of reader recommendations occur in a number of ways.  One example is the ways in which many websites allow you to “Share” an article on Facebook, Myspace, Digg, and other networks.  By sharing these articles, you can post it on one of these links, add comments or feedback, or e-mail them to your address book.  Another way to share information might be through a status update on Gmail or AOL.  By posting a link to an article in your chat status, you are not only encouraging your friends to read this article, but engage in discussion about it.   The more “plugged in” we are to media, the more increasingly we are sharing, discussing, and engaging in media.  It seems somewhat intuitive then that as the political climate increases during an historic election period, that whoever dominated this form of sharing would get more “air time” than the other candidate.

Working in Marketing and Communications in a non-profit, I can say first-hand that personal recommendations is a number one seller no matter what you are campaigning for.  Political campaigning, although it’s purpose and ideals are less superficial than this year’s fashion, is one big and expensive sales pitch.  To be able to sell an ideology based on personal recommendations over external references (ads, news, pundits, etc.) is the key to success on a campaign.  Social networking for the first time allows this kind of abstract concept (personal, complex, and intimate networks of friends and relations) to be removed out of abstraction and into concrete, computerized, measurable and constructive tools for civic participation.   By understanding this, the Obama campaign was ahead of the traditional campaign politics of looking at election results of four years ago only.

The Obama campaign similarly understood the need to connect, quite literally, with youth culture, black culture, and other traditionally disenfranchised sectors of voter populations.  However they did, they did so successfully, but one can guess that tools like text messaging, social networks, and good web design helped.   According to the Pew Research Center, 57% of adults ages 18 – 29 consider cell phones a necessity, the highest percentage of any age group reported on (Taylor, Funk & Clark).   The same report shows a significant shift in Computer necessity over TV necessities for ages 49 and younger and those who are in their 50s and up (Taylor, Funk & Clark).  Such a priority shift was engaged by the Obama campaign, making the traditional forms of media a sideline in their efforts to capture a wide voter turnout.

Borenstein, Seth. “Voter Turnout best in generations, maybe a century”, The Associated PressU. November 5, 2008.  November 23, 2008. []

“Facebook.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 21 Nov 2008, 21:21 UTC. 23 Nov 2008 <;.

Taylor, Paul, Cary Funk, and April Clark. Pew Social & Demographic Trends. December 14, 2006. Pew Research Center. November 23, 2008 []

Taylor, Paul, Cary Funk, and April Clark.  Pew Social & Demographic Trends. December 14, 2006. Pew Research Center. November 23, 2008 []

Blogged with the Flock Browser