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Twitter in the 2012 Election: 10 Reasons Why it Matters

by Jane Susskind, published
Since its creation in 2006, Twitter has impacted the news cycle considerably. There are now more tweets sent every two days than had ever been sent prior to the 2008 election, speaking volumes to the increasing popularity of the social network and the impact of Twitter in the 2012 election. With over

500 million people on Twitter, it has become an invaluable resource for politicians, candidates, journalists, and voters alike.

"The 24/7 news cycle has transformed into the 140 character news cycle," Adam Sharp of the Government and Politics Twitter team states. Here are ten reasons why Twitter in the 2012 election matters:

1) Return to Retail Politics 

What was previously limited to campaign stops and town hall events, is now accessible for all candidates through social media. Twitter allows candidates to build relationships with constituents one-on-one. Users can be directly engaged with the political process by simply re-tweeing a message, sharing a photo, or favorite-ing a tweet. Conversations occurring online are a return to the types of conversations that candidates could previously only get canvassing door-to-door.

2) Real-Time Reaction

Twitter has become a hub for voters to see real-time reactions, candid responses, and instantly check facts and statistics referenced in debates and speeches. It demands transparency from the candidates, knowing that their arguments can be verified in the blink of an eye. This is undoubtably a good thing.

3) #Trending Topics

The ability to see what is trending on Twitter and interact with those trends allows candidates and campaigns to respond to public interest unbelievably quickly. During political events, the trending topics unveil what topics, issues, or language was effective in moving voters to interact. The ability to see when the conversation is turning allows candidates to alter their campaigns and strategies in relation to public opinion, not consultants.

4) The Presidential Debates

With over ten million tweets, the first presidential debate was the most tweeted about event in US politics. As argued by Juan William of Fox News, "Twitter has given birth to an entirely new debate experience that I believe will be the new norm for presidential debates from here on." Twitter encourages interactivity. News organizations host Tweet Chats, political figures live-tweet the debate, journalists follow along and share their opinions. The utilization of  a "second screen" in analyzing and forming decisions on the presidential debates will revolutionize presidential debates in the future.

5) Fact Check

The internet has not only changed how we watch the presidential debates, but the phenomenon of live fact checking has become widespread in all aspects of politics. As reported by POLITICO, voters are starting to receive the majority of their information online:

Fully 64% of voters use the Internet to verify or “fact check” a claim made by a candidate, including 34% who do so weekly, and 58% search for information online about candidates’ voting records or positions on the issues, including more than a quarter (26%) who do so weekly.

The ability to verify statements during a speech, debate, or live event will eventually force candidates to present their arguments accurately.

6) Voter Participation 

Retweeting is a powerful function of Twitter. It is a call to action that often times encourages participation that previously could only be sparked from direct interaction. In one click, users can share something that is meaningful to them in a way that revolutionizes campaigning.

Seeing a message from someone a person trusts on Twitter urges that person to click the link, read the context, and share it with their friends. The chain reaction that results from social sharing is what leads to messages going viral, giving candidates the opportunity to reach millions of people who were unreachable in previous elections. The more people a candidate can reach out to, the better the democratic process.

7) Acceleration of the News-cycle  

For better or for worse, people are bombarded with a flood of information in their digital timelines, forcing them to sift through the news to find the information that is important to them. Twitter's 140 character limit, which was originally created to make Twitter compatible with text messaging, transforms the way people read news. It allows people the opportunity to get a glimpse into news occurring worldwide and select the topics and issues they want to see more of. It enables news to be created before, during, and after an event. The speed at which news travels has accelerated to fit the demands of our lifestyles.

8) Personal Engagement

While door-to-door campaigning is still the most effective strategy, it is not always feasible. The experience of interacting with candidates on Twitter mirrors the voter experience of meeting a candidate and engaging with him or her personally. If used correctly, Twitter lets candidates and politicians engage with voters one-on-one.

9) Inclusion of Voters 

The length of a tweet was designed to increase accessibility for people without internet, fitting the space limitations set for mobile texting. Essentially, if you have a phone, you can use Twitter, a phenomena that sets Twitter apart from other social networks. Here's how to enable Twitter on your phone.

10) Journalism

The real-time reaction that is characteristic of Twitter is an invaluable tool for journalists. The ability to see when people react to political moments, campaign speeches, presidential debates, and political issues can guide journalists, reporters, and bloggers in writing on what's important to the American people. Journalists are provided an avenue to share their articles, thoughts, and opinions at a speed which was only imaginable eight years ago. Within seconds of posting an article, journalists can share their work to a wide array of users, creating a culture fixated around news.

To learn more about how social media is influencing the 2012 election, check out:

Facebook in the 2012 Election: 10 Reasons Why it Matters

Twitter Battleground, an IVN Series

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