How Facebook Has Changed Politics

Want to know how the presidential election is shaping up? Check your Facebook page. Ever since the so-called “Facebook election” of President Obama in 2008, the social media giant has been a political reference point for citizens, politicians and media alike. And judging from its recent actions, Facebook intends to have a major impact on the November election.

In the past year, Facebook has formed its own political action committee to strengthen its ties to Washington, D.C., and has announced two new politically themed apps. The “MyVote” app, created in partnership with Microsoft and Washington State, gives Facebook users the opportunity to register to vote online and review useful voter information. The “I’m Voting” app, a joint collaboration with CNN, allows users to publicly commit to vote, identify preferred candidates, and share their political views with friends.

But make no mistake about it: The powers that be at Facebook are not driving political change in a vacuum. Facebook’s 1 billion-plus users deserve the lion’s share of the credit for profoundly altering political processes not only in the United States but also abroad. Here are six ways that Facebook and its users have forever changed the “face” of politics.

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Make Politics and Politicians More Accessible

Image copyright Facebook

Since the advent of Facebook, the general public is more connected to politics than ever before. Instead of watching TV or searching the Internet for the latest political news, Facebook users can go directly to a politician’s fan page for the most up-to-date information. They can also interact one-on-one with candidates and elected officials about important issues by sending them private messages or posting on their walls. Personal contact with politicians gives citizens more immediate access to political information and more power to hold lawmakers accountable for their words and actions.

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Allow Campaign Strategists to Better Target Voters

Because politicians are more accessible to the public via Facebook, they receive almost immediate feedback about their stances on the issues from supporters and opponents. Campaign organizers and strategists track and analyze this feedback with social intelligence apps like Wisdom, which identify the demographics, “Likes,” interests, preferences and behaviors of politicians’ Facebook fan bases. This information helps campaign strategists target specific groups to rally new and existing supporters and raise funds.

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Force Media to Provide Reflective Coverage

Communication between politicians and the public on Facebook obliges the media to take a backseat in the reporting process. In an effort to reach a larger audience and speak directly to supporters, politicians often subvert the press by posting messages on their own Facebook pages. Facebook users see these messages and respond to them. The media must then report on the public response to a politician’s message rather than on the message itself. This process replaces the traditional, interrogatory reporting of the press with a reflective style of coverage that requires the press to report on trending issues instead of new stories.

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Increase Youth Voting Rates

By providing an easy, immediate way to share and access campaign information and support candidates, Facebook has increased the political mobilization of young people, in particular students. In fact, the “Facebook effect” has been credited as a major factor in the historic youth voter turnout for the 2008 presidential election, which was the second largest in American history (the largest turnout was in 1972, the first time 18-year-olds were allowed to vote in a presidential election). As young people intensify their participation in the political process, they have a greater say in determining the issues that drive campaigns and make the ballots.

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Organize Protests and Revolutions

Screenshot courtesy of Facebook © 2012

Facebook functions not only as a source of support for political systems but also as a means of resistance. In 2008, a Facebook group called "One Million Voices Against FARC" organized a protest march against FARC (the Spanish acronym for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia) in which hundreds of thousands of citizens participated. And as evidenced by the “Arab Spring” uprisings in the Middle East, activists used Facebook to organize inside their own countries and relied on other forms of social media such as Twitter and YouTube to get the word out to the rest of the world. In this way, users in authoritarian nations can engage in politics while evading state censorship.

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Promote World Peace

Although Facebook actively promotes peace on its Peace on Facebook page, the over 900 million people who comprise this global community are playing a significant role in breaking down borders between nations, religions, races and political groups. As Facebook users from different countries connect and share their views, they’re often surprised to learn how much they have in common. And in the best of cases, they begin to question why they were ever taught to hate each other in the first place.