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Debating social media‚??s impact on and influence over politics tech talk nick DeLorenzo

February 19. 2013 4:10PM
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Facebook and Twitter were both filled with posts and tweets yammering away about the virtues of this candidate that party this election season.

It's great to have a forum for discussion – but these frequently spilled over into other people's feeds, and the ire raised was surprising, in the de-friending of people with political views different from their own and in the rapid escalation of some debates into full-blown arguments.

Once the polls opened, people began to send photos of their ballot selections using the same channels, an action which is illegal in certain jurisdictions.

For their part, candidates spent record levels of money on online ads and social media campaigns.

Certainly the demographic most likely to vote liberally is also the group best positioned to receive those ads, at least for the time being, and many of the efforts did seem focused on simply getting people to the polls. I'm less certain how effective these ads were at changing people's minds.

More interesting to me would be what kind of positive feedback loops all of the back and forth on Facebook and Twitter created.

Peer pressure is nearly as big a factor online as it is in the real world, and it's certainly possible – perhaps probable, this had a measurable effect on the outcome of the elections. I'm not suggesting this makes the results less legitimate, but that the medium of social networking is beginning to influence global politics, particularly now that a large portion of the Facebook generation has hit voting age.

A crucial factor in this influence is that it's particularly susceptible to misinformation that rapidly snowballs until it's commonly accepted. Since there is not and should not be oversight or filtering of these channels other than by the end user, given their nature, this is an interesting issue.

One hopes – but cannot be certain – the companies that maintain these networks don't use this to further their own political or business goals. These are corporations, and corporations usually are not neutral.

What is certain is the impact of Facebook, Twitter and other social media networks on our day-to-day lives – and even on the outcome of large-scale world-changing events – is increasing.

It's important to realize this and take part, even if you are just a spectator.

Just remember to keep your own counsel.

Nick DeLorenzo is director of interactive and new media for The Times Leader. Email him at

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