Ann Coulter Controversy Emphasizes Con of Social Media

27 Oct

Previous posts from this blog have highlighted the growing positive impact social media is having on politics.  Americans have continued to turn to social media to express their political views.  A recent Pew Research Study found that 39% of American adults use social media for political or civic purposes.  The increasing involvement in politics through social media has allowed Americans to discuss and voice their political opinions through a productive medium.

However, conservative commentator and author Ann Coulter has demonstrated how social media can be a distracting influence on political discourse.  This past Monday, Coulter tweeted “I highly approve of Romney’s decision to be kind and gentle to the retard.”  Coulter was referencing President Obama with her offensive remark.

Ann Coulter’s distasteful tweet has garnered widespread media attention

As expected, Coulter has received an onslaught of outrage and demands for her to apologize.  Coulter has responded by defending her offensive remark  and using retard in a derogatory manner again.

Coulter’s Motivations

Tommy Christopher from Mediaite makes a solid point in his article about Coulter’s motivations.  Despite her  attempts to indicate otherwise, Coulter fully understands that her use of the word retard in a derogatory manner is offensive.  However, her comments have given her extra media attention and reenforced her brand as a politically incorrect conservative commentator.

This controversy is a reminder that social media isn’t always a positive influence on political discourse.  Social media outlets such as Twitter provide an easy way for political pundits to make attention grabbing comments.  Word of mouth spreads fast on Twitter and as a result, a lot of attention is given to ridiculous comments by prominent commentators.

Other forms of media are more censored so it’s harder for pundits to make ridiculous attention grabbing comments.  Social media gives commentators additional incentive to make offensive comments.  In Coulter’s case, her comments have promoted the notion that she’s a hard nosed conservative willing to say anything to anger liberals.  Despite social media’s overwhelmingly positive impact on politics, commentators such as Ann Coulter have used it for self promotion that distracts from constructive political discourse.

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Obama’s Return to Form Sparks Social Media

18 Oct

This past Tuesday’s debate was truly a return to form for President Obama. Instead of passively participating, the President was engaging and challenged Romney head on.  Romney also put on a strong performance resulting in an exciting debate with a great deal of tension.  Conservative columnist, George Will, declared this debate “immeasurably the best” he’s ever seen.

The debate was the 3rd largest social media event of all-time, after this year’s Grammy Awards and MTV Video Music Awards.  The debate generated 12.24 million comments on Twitter and Facebook.  Women, the demographic that Obama and Romney have been primarily fighting over, made 54% of these comments.

Obama should be all smiles after his debate performance Tuesday night

The general consensus from news media was that Obama won the debate by only a slim margin.  However, many commentators noted that Obama’s respective performance was more beneficial due to the President’s weak first debate.

Obama Reenergizes His Base

A social media analysis by Attensity found that in general, social media users from swing states had more positive sentiment towards Obama’s performance as opposed to Romney’s.  However, fewer commentators from swing states showed an intent to vote for a particular candidate.  This indicates that many swing state voters, even after two debates, are still undecided.

However, despite swing state voters’ indecisiveness, Obama should still see this debate as a huge win.  An NBC Politics social media analysis found that through noon on Wednesday, 41% of social media comments thought Obama won, 29% thought Romney won, and 29% were neutral/no opinion.

Social media users, a base that leans towards Obama clearly gave Obama the victory.  This is in stark contrast with the last debate in which social media users were generally disappointed in Obama.  Social media users seemed to be excited about Obama’s performance and return to form.  This is why his performance was so crucial.  Social media’s reaction to the debate reflects that Obama reenergized his base.

An energized base leads to a higher voter turnout.  This is what propelled Obama to victory in 2008, and this is what he needs to do to win this election.  While Romney did a solid job at the debate as well, Obama’s performance could have strong implications for voter turnout from his base.  It’ll be intriguing to see who gets the last word in the final debate.

Social Media’s Growing Political Influence

14 Oct

As the election cycle continues to churn out news worthy politics, social media continues to play an integral part in the political media.  Whether it’s spreading the most recent political news or gaffes, or helping campaigns reach the masses, social media continues to be a strong presence in the election.  This brings to mind the question that has often been mentioned in past posts, but has yet to be directly addressed with its own post.  What is the political power of social media?

Blogger Abdul Majeed Abid tackles this question by analyzing the 2008 presidential election.  In his article, Abid argues that Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign was shaped by social media and its users.  Obama’s campaign invested $16 million on internet media, consequently, Obama’s presence in social media  dominated McCain’s.  These tactics likely rallied younger and more left leaning voters to the polls, which resulted in Obama’s convincing win.

Prominent writer Clay Shirkey takes a more global approach to the question.  In his article The Political Power of Social Media, Shirkey provides numerous examples of political movements using social media to organize political change.  One such movement in Moldova  overthrew the Communist Party following obviously fraudulent elections.  Another notable example is the Egyptian revolution and Arab spring, which overthrew former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

The Arab spring, coordinated using social media, has spread throughout the Arab world

Shirkey goes on to say, “social media have become coordinating tools for nearly all of the world’s political movements, just as most of the world’s authoritarian governments (and, alarmingly, an increasing number of democratic ones) are trying to limit access to it.”  This statement emphasizes the power and problem with social media’s influence.

As it’s becoming more apparent that social media has the power to overthrow governments, many regimes and states are trying to censor and control how social media is used.  Consequently, some authoritarian governments have used social media to control dissidents and maintain power.

It’s undeniable that social media is a strong player in politics, regardless of where you are.  For less stable governments, history has taught us that social media has the power to overthrow them or maintain their status of power.  For more developed countries such as the U.S., social media can rally voters to the polls and organize effective protests.  If politicians ignore social media’s growing influence, it’s unlikely they’ll be in a seat of power for much longer.

Social Media Reacts to the Debate

6 Oct

The moment finally came.  Obama and Romney finally faced off in the election’s first debate this past Wednesday.  Due to the fact that Obama has been gaining steam in the polls, expectations for the president were high.  However, to many voters’ and commentators’ surprise, Obama gave a rather safe and tame performance.

Immediately following the debate, the majority of political pundits and analysts agreed that Romney defeated Obama with a strong and confident performance.   According to an analysis by NBC Politics, politically active social media users initially agreed.  On the morning of October 4th, the day after the election, among politically active Twitter and Facebook users , 32% thought Obama won, 30% were neutral, and 38% thought Romney won.

Obama’s debate performance was criticized from both the left and right

This is particularly impressive for Romney, considering that social media users tend to be younger and left leaning.  However, only 24 hours later, social media users’ opinions on the debate shifted.   It seems that the analysis of non-partisan fact checkers and the efforts of Obama supporters to sway opinion have changed users’ minds.  On the morning of October 5th, 44% thought Obama won, 23% were neutral, and 33% thought Romney won.

What Are the Implications of These Numbers?

These numbers indicate that Romney’s victory might not be as impressive as initially thought.  It seems that once social media users got additional information they gravitated back towards Obama.  However, these numbers still show the importance of Romney’s strong performance Wednesday night.

Romney’s performance still was rated fairly well by social media users, a sample population that is most likely biased against him.  This means that a sample of statistically unbiased voters likely thought Romney performed better than Obama.

Based on the analysis of social media, it doesn’t appear that Romney’s performance is a game changer.  However, it’s undeniable that the debate breathed new life into his campaign at a much needed time.

Negative Media Narrative Looms Over the Election

30 Sep

With every election season comes a barrage of negative political ads against both candidates.  Each candidates’ respective ads deem the other candidate incompetent, unqualified, bad for America, or just plain stupid.  In the past, voters have often times turned to the news media to hear a less negative and more objective take on each candidate.

According to a recent report by the Pew Institute, this presidential election is different.  The report found that the news media has portrayed the characters and records of Obama and Romney in an overwhelmingly negative light.  For Obama, 72% of this coverage was negative, while for Romney, 71% was negative.  This has made for some of the most negative candidate narratives in recent memory.

Obama under increased scrutiny

In addition, journalists appear to have a more limited role in shaping the candidate narratives of the election.  The Pew report found that reporters and talk show personalities account for only about half as many of the assertions about candidates’ character as they did back in 2000.  It appears that as the news media has shifted towards the web, campaigns have been able to influence the media narrative more than reporters.

Why an increasingly negative press?

To begin with, the development of online news media has made candidates more accessible.  Online news outlets track the candidates’ every move and report back with often times opinionated analysis.  The level of scrutiny that candidates endure is higher than ever.  Political pundits nitpick at each candidates move, resulting in an increasingly negative tone in the news.

The accessibility of the online news media has also made it easier for campaign interests to permeate this medium.  Online media has given the comments of candidates and campaign affiliated commentators a new outlet, in which they can reach a broader audience.  These comments often times are focused on criticizing the opposing candidate, which contributes to the overall negative media narrative of the candidates.

Recent questionable comments haven’t helped Romney’s portrayal in the media

Also, the recent trend of sensationalistic news has veered TV news media towards biased reporting and debate.  News stations such as Fox News and MSNBC have decided to deliver their news through biased pundits and attention seeking commentators.  These pundits and commentators attack the candidate who they’re biased against often times with unjustified claims.  A large portion of TV news media has become a 24-7 barrage of criticisms towards Romney and Obama.

While candidates deserve to be scrutinized under a microscope, the negative media narrative has done little to help voters make informed decisions come November.  A large portion of the negativity isn’t constructive criticism, but rather over generalized insults hurled from one side of the aisle to the other.  For the news media to play a more constructive role in politics, readers and viewers must demand more professional and objective reporting.

 

The Election Goes to Twitter

23 Sep

This month’s Democratic National Convention (DNC) took Twitter by storm.  According to an article from Reuters, President Obama’s speech to conclude the DNC incited 52,756 tweets per minute, a new record.  Also, the DNC’s final day generated about 4 million tweets.  It took the Republic National Convention all five days to generate this amount.  This is far from surprising considering that active twitter users are typically younger and left-leaning.

Thankfully for Romney, the election is more than a Twitter popularity contest.  After the conclusion of the DNC, Obama’s ranking was 52 on Twitter’s political index, while Romney’s stood at a pitiful 9.  Also, Obama currently has a little over 20 million followers, while Romney only has a little over a million.

Judging from these numbers it seems that Romney’s campaign is not too concerned with appealing to typical social media crowds.  They’ve opted to decline to invest their resources on reaching a narrower younger base.  Instead they’ve focused their efforts on different forms of media, such as TV, that can reach broader voter demographics.

Does Twitter Win Over Voters?

Short answer: probably not.  However, this doesn’t mean Twitter has no impact on the election.  Obama and Romney take somewhat different approaches with their tweets.  Romney primarily tweets to take jabs at Obama, express the conservative views of his campaign, and occasionally publicize his campaign’s platforms.

Romney doing some damage control on his now infamous 47% dependent comments

On the other hand, Obama’s tweets sound more like a fundraiser.  While he takes plenty of jabs at Romney as well, his tweets are primarily used to energize his followers and ask for donations.  The contrast in Obama’s and Romney’s

Rallying the troops

tweets reflects the impact Twitter can have on the election.  If Romney felt he could truly win over a notable amount of votes on Twitter, his social media campaign would be far more aggressive and impressive.  Obama, with a far more aggressive social campaign isn’t primarily seeking to convert voters, but rather to improve voter turnout.

Obama is trying to energize the younger  base that propelled him to victory in 2008.  In doing so he’s also trying to raise funds for the campaign, which could actually be a somewhat effective considering he has over 20 million followers.  If Obama is counting on younger demographics to win him the election, he’ll wisely continue to increase his presence on Twitter and other social media outlets.

Reddit Meets the Candidates

16 Sep

In the past 3 weeks three of some of the most prominent presidential candidates conducted an AMA on Reddit.  Deemed by itself as the front page of the internet, Reddit is driven by user submitted content that users can upvote or downvote depending on the quality of the post.  An AMA (Ask me anything) is a subreddit on Reddit that allows celebrities, politicians, or just ordinary people open a page in which redditors can ask anything they desire.

Democratic incumbent Barack Obama, Libertarian party candidate Gary Johnson, and Green Party candidate Jill Stein each conducted their own AMAs with varying degrees of success.  The links to the AMAs can be found here: Barack Obama, Gary Johnson, and Jill Stein.  Although Obama’s AMA managed to crash Reddit, Johnson’s and Stein’s AMAs were more engaging and seemed to be better received.  This was partly because Obama only stuck around to answer only ten questions.

One underlying consensus throughout these AMAs seemed to be that redditors were sick of bipartisan politics and wanted to see 3rd party candidates in the national spotlight.  Common opinions were money has too much of an impact on politics, more prominent 3rd party candidates should be allowed in the national debates, and little love for the Republican party.

While it’s doubtful that Obama’s less interesting AMA will have much of an impact on the polls, the same can’t be said for the 3rd party candidates’ AMAs.  These AMAs gave them a chance to not only gain much needed exposure, but to directly present potential voters their opinions.  Even though these candidates have no chance of winning, these AMAs at least gave them a chance to plant a seed for future 3rd party candidates.  The more accessible 3rd party candidates are to voters, the more likely America could one day break from the bipartisan system.

Where’s Romney?

Notably absent from the party is the Republican candidate Mitt Romney.  In this bloggers opinion, a wise choice not to attend.  Romney doing an AMA would be the equivalent of walking into a party where not only you weren’t invited, but you’re also about the last person anyone wanted to see.  Based on the top comments in the politics subreddit, it’s quite obvious that Reddit is very socially liberal and fiscally left leaning.

Results from iSideWith.com show that Romney is incredibly unpopular on Reddit.  Romney has little reason to do an AMA since it’s quite likely that it would turn into a roast that could garner further media attention.  Even though Reddit is usually a welcoming community, it’s doubtful that Romney would win too many votes by doing an AMA.  High risk, little reward.  Good call to stay away, Mr. Romney.