With advancements in technology and the growing popularity of social media, many views are evident about its place in the political system and its potential to affect young voters.

Steven V. Roberts, journalist and political analyst who has covered 11 presidential elections, discussed how social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and how technology could affect the number of young voters actively participating in politics.

“It definitely has a potential for impact.  It gives young people, who often feel excluded by politics, a voice,” Roberts said.

Roberts added that one of the biggest changes brought about by social media is changing all citizens’ involvement from passive to active.  He explained how easy technology makes it for us to get involved.

“Every time you click that ‘share’ button on Twitter or submit answers to quizzes, you’re passing on information,” Roberts said.

Many people cite 2008 as the year that brought the most change to national and local elections throughout the United States.

“The topic is so dynamic,” Roberts said during a recent lecture at Western Michigan University about the media’s role in the 2012 presidential election.  “It’s changing right in front of us.”

David Houghton, an associate professor in the Political Science Department at Western Michigan University, agrees that politics is changing because of the introduction of social media, first seen around the time of the 2008 presidential election.

Houghton said one million people got involved through texting during Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008 and some candidates, like Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, announced a candidacy over the Internet.

“It’s [texting] becoming the best way to reach out to young people and the sole way to drive involvement,” Houghton said.

Houghton explained that television is the first source U.S. citizens turn to for political information, but by the end of this year, the Internet is projected to move from second to first, replacing television.

Roberts and Houghton aren’t alone in thinking that social media may potentially change politics in the United States.  WMU students LaTasha James and Theresa Lytwyn  see social media as influential.

“Social media is an incredibly important part of getting youth involved.  Students, especially, spend so much time on the Internet that other methods of voter outreach and communication have almost become useless for that age group,” said James, who is currently a sophomore at WMU and has participated in every national and local election since she turned 18 in 2009.

Theresa Lytwyn, a 20-year-old junior at WMU and active participant in the school’s pro-life group Students For Life, said social media is also a great motivator when it comes to getting students involved in the political system.  But she said it also has setbacks.

“I think social media is very good at encouraging people to get involved.  The negative would be that there is so much information out there and often times it’s probably misleading or misinformed information,” Lytwyn said.

During his lecture on media’s involvement in the 2012 presidential election, at Western Michigan University, Roberts said that information presented through social media can often be misleading or even incorrect.

“It allows for so much more diversity, which can also be a negative thing.  The fresh air comes in, but the flies come in too,” Roberts said.

Even though social media conveys incorrect information at times, some say it is overall the most effective way of reaching out to today’s voters.

Houghton said voters ages 18-29 are two times more likely to gather their information on politics from shows such as “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” as compared to all other voters.

“Another thing that draws them [young voters] in is negative campaigning.  It works.  If it didn’t, the ads would have stopped by now,” Houghton said.

Roberts said social media also work so well on young voters because many of these voters do not seem to care about the current political issues in our country, but social media focuses directly on them and makes them feel like their voices are heard.

“I remember watching a YouTube video by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, endorsing Barack Obama’s campaign during the election in 2008.  Those kinds of endorsements are not like the ones you see on TV or hear on the radio, they’re targeted directly at us.  It makes youth voters feel important, like someone else really understands us,” James said.

As Roberts said, whether social media will actually improve voter turn out or not is still in question, but the potential is definitely there.

 

Theresa Lytwyn (center left) with the WMU Students for Life group

AUDIO: Latasha James gives her opinion of the impact of social media on politics.

 

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