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Facebook in the 2012 Election: 10 Reasons Why it Matters

by Jane Susskind, published

On October 4th, 2012, Facebook passed the 1 billion user milestone, securing its role at the top of the social media ladder. In the age of social media, Facebook plays a transformative role in the 2012 election and the lens through which we view it.

Facebook provides a platform for politicians, candidates, voters, journalists, and spectators to find and spread information, Facebook affects all of us this election. For politicians and candidates, it provides a space to directly interact and engage with voters. For voters across the nation, it provides a wealth of information on state, local, and the nationwide election that yields the power to mobilize voters to get out the vote. For journalists and spectators, it opens up the dialogue surrounding the election, allowing journalists to use its vast user-base to crowdsource, fact-check, and gain insight into what Americans are talking about online.

Facebook has already had a monumental effect on the 2012 election. Below are 10 reasons why it matters:

1) Energizing Young Voters

In an era when 98% of people aged 18-24 use social media, a digital strategy is a necessity for any campaign. In 2008, John McCain learned that lesson the hard way, when there were only 18 million U.S. Facebook users between the ages of 18-29 years old. With Facebook hitting 1 billion users this year, that number is much higher.

Young voters increasingly get their information online, but Facebook is not just about spreading information. It has the ability to mobilize young voters, made evident by this study.

2) "The Friend Factor"

In a study led by the University of California San Diego, voter turnout increased among voters who had seen or shared messages about voting on Facebook. Known as the "Friend Factor," peer pressure on Facebook resulted in an additional 340,000 votes in the 2010 primary election. Additionally, the messages were non-partisan, proving that Facebook, not party politics, is responsible for this increase.

3) Facebook is the new TV

Despite record high spending from SuperPACs on television ads this election season, Americans are increasingly "going off the grid," according to a recent study by SAY Media. In an August survey of likely voters in Ohio and Florida, SAY Media reported 31 % of likely voters in the two battleground states watched no live TV in the previous week. Additionally, 36% of 18-44 year olds and 15% of likely voters over 44 years old watch less TV than they did a year ago. With the advent of online live-streaming, voters no longer rely on TV as their main source for news. And 52% of likely voters in Florida and Ohio watch video via the Internet on a weekly basis. Voters are turning off the television and replacing live broadcasts with online media shared extensively on Facebook.

4) Picking Winners

According to a study conducted by NM Incite, a project of the Nielsen/McKinsey company, candidates with more social media mentions win 75% of the time. The study analyzed the social media approaches and numbers of four different races and concluded that, while three out of the four winners had the most social media mentions in their race, "the share of online buzz for each winning candidate was often higher than their percent of votes, demonstrating a strong correlation but not necessarily a causal relationship between social media and election results."  So, while social media activity plays an important role in a successful campaign, it is just one of many contributing factors involved in a victory.

5) Facebook Apps

Facebook apps provide users the opportunity to interact with the political process through social media. Interactive features urge voters to get involved, spread information, and follow the election directly from the social media website. CNN, for example, teamed up with Facebook to create the "I'm Voting" App, which allows Facebook users to pledge to vote on Election day. Relying on the social sharing aspect of Facebook, the application urges voters to share their pledge with friends and family by giving users the option of posting it on their timelines.

Speaking of Facebook Apps, don't forget to drop your pin on our new Drop Your Party app!

6) Crowdsourcing

The utility of Facebook in an election is not limited to candidates and voters. Journalists, reporters, and bloggers have at their fingertips a diverse group of Americans to interview, quote, and crowdsource. Ari Shapiro, White House correspondent for National Public Radio noted (in a Facebook Politics live panel discussion) that Facebook provides journalists an inside look at what's "percolating" in the battleground states before it hits the news.

7) Alternative Voices

In what's turning out to be the most expensive election in history, third-party and independent candidates face challenges in competing with partisan incumbents and party-backed candidates. In their uphill battle, alternative voices often get muted and overshadowed by the excess of campaign cash fueling the 2012 election.

Facebook can change that. Not only does Facebook offer third-party candidates an alternative avenue to make their voices heard, but it also enables independent organizations to enter the political dialogue. Instead of waiting for media coverage, candidates and organizations can spark conversation online and engage with a community of like-minded individuals.

8) State & Local Elections

State and local elections often times do not get the same amount of attention as the presidential election. In the world of politics, Facebook allows candidates running local campaigns to create a page at no cost. Candidates running in local elections can use social media to create a hub of information on local issues; an invaluable tool in elections where information is harder to come by in the traditional news outlets.

9) Facebook Groups Breed Engagement

Individual voters can not only engage with politicians, issue advocates, and candidates on their personal Facebook accounts, but they can use Facebook Groups to create events and discussion boards with other like-minded voters. Using Facebook, voters can connect and discuss issues that are important to them. Facebook Groups are used as catalysts for action, a tool that has been particularly successful in the organization of political protests, fundraising efforts, get out the vote campaigns, and volunteer movements.

10) Fundraising

One of the many resources available on Facebook is the ability to fundraise by sharing messages that call supporters to action. The Obama campaign prides itself for effectively building a large "grassroots donations" base from millions of small donation supporters. Those fundraising efforts rely on powerful tools made available by Facebook to educate donors and transform them into campaign advocates. The power of a post shared by a friend on Facebook far surpasses the impact of paid advertising. For fundraising, Facebook has created a space for less funded candidates to optimize the social platform.

Have you used Facebook to engage with the 2012 election? Share how in the comments below.

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