Imagine a world where people use social media tools like Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus for more than idle banter about the latest NBA drama or Sunday’s episode of the Housewives of Atlanta. Increasingly, people are doing just that; using the land of social media as a forum to push a political candidate or cause they believe in.
That phenomenon led the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies to gather leading social media and political experts at Howard University this week for a panel entitled “What’s Your Cause? Social Media Use in the 2012 Election.”
In many ways African-Americans are a sleeping giant in the social media landscape.
“Certainly when you look at minority voters, we use Twitter more than any population in the country," said Jamal Simmons, political commentator and principal at the Raben Group." So African-Americans and Latinos use laptops, iPads, Blackberries, cellphones and iPhones to interact a lot more than any other group also. We’ve got to learn to take advantage of it.”
Twitter's manager of government and politics, Adam Sharp, said it has transformed politics in three ways. “It has given voters direct access to real-time information; second, candidates can get a direct relationship with voters. And the third way is you no longer have to have money to access a platform to communicate. Even with a small number of followers, if you have a compelling message and a compelling bit of information to share, that can spread to thousands if not millions of users around the country and around the world,” he said.
Janaye Ingram, National Action Network D.C. Bureau Chief, told the audience, “I feel like social media is really a tool to make sure that people are informed, about the political process: knowing how many days are left to register to vote, knowing about the different new rules and that sort of thing and how those may affect voters.”
NAACP National Field Director Stephanie Brown stressed the need for people to not only engage during an election or when a political topic is hot. “You have to engage young people every single day, and also have to be able to tap into those things that they’re passionate about," she said. "So if you have organizations and campaigns that are very in tune with what their constituents feel, they can then tailor campaigns and initiatives to run social media platforms that would tie back to what those individuals actually care about.”
Sometimes a person’s approach to using social media can make a difference in how a message is received. Lenny McAllister, conservative political commentator, encourages social media-users to go beyond the gadgets and gizmos by using a human touch to communicate. He said, ”We need to allow the social interactions that we’re supposed to have, that we had during the civil rights movement, that we had at the pre-civil rights movement of the 20th century, we need to allow that spirit to come through social media, and it has to be cross-generational.”
This is only the first in a series of events the Joint Center will use to highlight the increasing role of social media in civic engagement. Dr. Nicol Turner-Lee, vice president and director of the Joint Center Media and Technology Institute said, “We want to energize African-Americans and other people of color, especially young voters and potential voters who have demonstrated that they are comfortable with the technology and can lead the way to broader adoption.”
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