The Power of Social Media in Politics

“Carson won’t go to New Hampshire and South Carolina, but instead will head home to Florida for some R&R. He’ll be in D.C on Thursday for the National Prayer Breakfast.” This one Tweet posted by CNN reporter Chris Moody on February 1, 2016 before the Iowa caucus opened was enough to stir up some major drama between presidential candidates Ben Carson and Ted Cruz.

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Following this Tweet, Ted Cruz’s campaign informed Cruz supporters that Ben Carson had dropped out of the race, misstating what CNN had reported. Dr. Carson was sent into a tizzy after finding out that Cruz’s campaign was spreading rumors that he had quit and CNN quickly defended their reporting, referencing the Tweet’s that followed, which confirmed Ben Carson was continuing in the race.

This incident is a perfect example of how emerging media is revolutionizing politics. In the past, traditional media gatekeepers relied on print and broadcast television to communicate. Today, reporters are using Twitter and other social media platforms, which have allowed an alternative means of communicating information to a mass audience and have become a key tool in political campaigns.

Freelon and Karpf (2015) stated that in the 2012 presidential debates 11% of the debate audience “dual screened”, meaning that they were tuned into both TV and the Twitter feeds. Today, consumers are not just relying on the media to report on politics, but they are also relying on the political figures to communicate to them on social media platforms like Twitter. The average citizen can also share their thoughts and engage in politics online and this is powerful.

Today, we are seeing that potential voters are engaging in politics in non traditional ways, such as receiving news through Twitter and Facebook. This change has influenced the press and political candidates to make social media a priority. According to Kreiss (2014), campaign’s digital teams are now playing close attention to shaping the commentary on social media platforms in an effort to manipulate the national political dialogue.

According to the New York Times, Carson’s campaign accused Cruz of “Dirty Tricks.” Whether or not Cruz’s campaign deliberately spread rumors that Carson was dropping out or if it was a mere accident, the timing and reaction to these Tweets displays the heightened engagement on social media by all parties, politicians, the media and consumers.

Brittany Kiser @bkiser2

Emerging Media Graduate Student

Loyola University

Freelon, D., & Karpf, D. (2015). Of big birds and bayonets: hybrid Twitter interactivity in   the 2012 Presidential debates. Information, Communication & Society, 18(4), 390-406. doi: 10.1080/1369118X.2014.952659

Kreiss, D. (2014). Seizing the moment: The presidential campaigns’ use of Twitter during the 2012 electoral cycle. new media & society. doi: 10.1177/1461444814562445

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