Erica Williams is CEO of Foolish Life Ventures, a member of the Global Agenda Council on Social Media, and is a World Economic Forum Global Shaper.
The US election was a social media bonanza. Ironically, the most powerful uses of social media didn’t originate from the campaigns themselves but rather were organic happenings from voters. Here are three ways in which social media made an impact on the election:
Memorability Ask anyone under 40 what the year’s most memorable political memes are and you’ll hear “Binders Full of Women”. Or perhaps “Horses & Bayonets”. Within minutes of a candidate uttering a shocking, silly, uninformed, telling or witty statement, a new meme would be born. These narratives rapidly pushed themselves into mainstream debate, forcing national media outlets, and even the campaigns, to address them. Sometimes they were embraced, other times they were rebutted. In either case they made noise and changed the debate. In this way, social media helped create some memorable moments.
Misinformation has unfortunately become a hallmark of American elections. Desperate candidates and segmented media, both catering to a divided electorate, are notorious for the lack of objective information. So where can one find “truth” – pure, clear, unadulterated facts? Twitter. As I watched and prepared to provide commentary for each presidential debate, I looked no further than my Twitter feed to find real-time fact-checkers, individuals I know and trust linking to reliable sources to support or disprove critical assertions. My Twitter feed was an open-source encyclopedia at my fingertips.
Social media did in 2012 what social media has always done best: supported the formation of a strong, encouraging community of voters. Research shows that peer-to-peer organizing remains the best way to increase voter participation. Social media multiplies that peer-to-peer effect on an unlimited scale. Programmes were built to allow voters to share election day information, resources and, most importantly, experiences.
Social media has certainly made its mark on how people engage with the systems and structures around them. And I am excited about the positive nature of that mark. Social media is changing how we change our world. It’s a platform for young revolutionaries in the Arab Spring, and for undocumented immigrant youth in the US. It provides a channel for citizens and their elected officials to fix city problems together. It helps consumers to direct corporate social responsibility – the possibilities are endless.
To critics who say that social media has done nothing but isolate us and distract us from the real world, I say, just wait. I spend my days advising organizations, businesses and leaders on how to take advantage of this growing space and am so excited to be part of the group determined to get this advancement in communication and technology right. There is a generation using social media in ways that solve the world’s problems rather than add to them. And to those risk-takers I say, onward. The US election was only the beginning.
Image: Confetti obscures the stage as U.S. President Barack Obama celebrates after winning the U.S. presidential election REUTERS/Philip Andrews