Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Facebook and Election 2008

When voters went to the polls in 2004, Facebook was still in its infancy. Created in the spring of that year exclusively for Ivy League students, the website was only beginning to spread to larger state universities. High school students were still more than a year away, and the controversial opening to everyone in the world wouldn’t come until late 2006. The role it played in the ’04 election was minimal, for several reasons. Externally, John Kerry was just not as exciting to young voters as Barack Obama. He failed to energize the Facebook generation, and subsequently lost the election. Obama, however, has great appeal to the young and tech-savvy; his youth and composure, his photogenic family, as well as his outstanding personal branding campaign have all contributed to his popularity among a typically-apathetic voting bloc.

Internally, the site itself has evolved immensely, having added many features and undergone numerous changes that have turned it into the world’s most popular social networking site. Status updates, or microblogging, is now an extremely common way of communicating with one’s friends. Users update their Facebook (as well as their Twitter, Gmail, etc.) status with surprising frequency. Though I do not have statistics to support this theory, I would guess the amount of status updates today surpasses that of any previous day. Everyone is weighing in on the election, from proclaiming their political allegiance to decrying the drawn-out campaign. Through the “Causes” application, the site even allows users to donate their status, either in support of a particular candidate, or just to encourage voting.

Beyond the enthusiasm of its community, Facebook offers several applications or tools that allow its users to express their political voice. Within the popular “Gifts” app, one can post buttons to friends’ profiles. These icons normally cost $1, but the special election buttons are free. (The Obama buttons, tellingly, perhaps, are somehow sold out.) Additionally, the site has designed an entire election page, complete with a running counter of Facebookers who have voted and a tool for finding your polling place.

It’s exciting to see a site to central to the daily lives of millions of people playing such an active role in one of the most important elections in decades. Facebook is remaining nonpartisan, merely serving as a resource and gathering place for the hoards of election-hungry news junkies. Politics has gone social, and the world is the better for it.

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