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The Power of Social Media in Politics Presents Itself (Again)

We know from Anthony Weiner that misuse of social media can impact politics. But can proper use of social media impact politics as well?

On June 24th, the New York State Senate voted on the bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state. The bill passed, thanks to Republican Senators Mark Grisanti and Steve Saland, who at the last minute broke away from their party to support it.

In the days following the vote, Senator Grisanti received about 5,000 additional “likes” on Facebook. But whereas Grisanti now has over 8,000 “likes,” Saland has barely over 2,000. Saland’s Facebook page does not allow users to write on his wall, yet some people used his most recent (yet unrelated) note to comment on same-sex marriage both before and after the vote. Now, I can’t guarantee that the supportive comments before the vote pushed these politicians over the edge. But at the very least, the mass of comments that flooded in after the vote was undoubtedly recognized as proof of support.

It appears that political events can instigate people to use social media as a way to support (or disapprove of) politicians, but only to the extent that they can easily engage. Actively maintained social media platforms open new channels for constituent engagement that can rally support that would be unattainable with traditional, non-interactive forms of communication. Furthermore, the international scope of social media means that local politicians can now expand their bases and draw political power from people who aren’t actually constituents but rather supporters of the individual’s beliefs and actions. Senator Grisanti harnessed the mounting energy around his political career by tracking the rise of Facebook “likes “on his Twitter page and creating a splash page on his website that links to his social media outlets. In Senator Saland’s case, his politics garnered some support through social media but he doesn’t seem to be taking advantage of social media to help further his politics.

My observations suggest a constant interplay between politics and social media. People used social media to garner support for the bill. Politicians’ support for the bill incited social media activity. And now, Senator Grisanti is harnessing that social media activity to garner support for his political career. In other words, social media impacts politics, which impacts social media, which further impacts politics. Social media acts as a cyclical engine, fueled simultaneously by constituent engagement and political action. With the click of a button, citizens can rally behind a politician and the politician in turn can extend his or her reach, instigate political action, and receive constituent feedback quickly and effectively. Ultimately, social media could even go as far as to change a politician’s position and affect legislative outcomes. Conversely, looking forward, could political and legislative success become dependent on robust social media outreach?

Ben Lauing
Written by Ben Lauing

Ben joins the Ad Council as a summer intern in Campaign Management. He assists on many campaigns but focuses on High School Dropout Prevention, Teen Dating Violence Prevention, and GLSEN’s Think Before You Speak. A rising senior at Stanford University, Ben studies Human Biology with a concentration in health policy and marketing, directs marketing for the Stanford Journal of Public Health, and walks backwards on a regular basis as a campus tour guide.

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