Will Social Media Be Decisive in the May 6th Election?

Now the campaign proper is in full effect and the media beast needs feeding on an hourly basis, one of the big questions on the lips of journalists is “will Facebook and twitter change the course of the election?”.  The answer is of course “yes and no”.

Social media will have less impact in the UK in 2010 than in the US in 2008 for a number of reasons:

  • Social networks are not as instant as people believe  they take time to build.  In the US fixed term system this meant they could start more than a year in advance.  We have four weeks.
  • We vote for local MPs.  We don’t vote for a president (or even a prime minister).  Social groups coalesce better around iconic individuals.
  • We have national ‘mainstream media’ in a way that the US does not.
  • The US is bigger, with different time zones so ‘opt in’ media that isn’t constrained by time or schedules works better.

In addition there is no party or individual that has achieved a huge level of traction in any of the social networks, with the exception of Sarah Brown who isn’t a politician. In the “yes” camp there are some persuasive arguments:

  • The verdict on the all important TV debates will be on-line and will be democratic.  We saw this in the Ask The Chancellor debates on Channel 4.
  • In a real sense people will participate in the debate and if an issue trends the politicians will have to answer.
  • Social media means that the media is ‘always on’, far more so than 24 hour TV news.  Any banana skins and we’ll know as soon as the politicians do.

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