Are we entering the age of the Social Media Election?

28 Mar

Caroline James @CarolineJames1

While we’re all excited about the Royal Wedding on the 29th April, it’s the 5th May I’m looking forward to.  While there’s perhaps a little less anticipation in the lead up to the AV referendum in comparison to the hysteria surrounding Kate Middleton’s dress, it marks an exciting moment for anyone looking at how journalists turn to social media to cover news stories these days.

In fact, Paul Waugh from PoliticsHome even makes a nifty comparison between past elections and the upcoming nuptials on Charlie Beckett’s POLIS blog: “It’s going to be a very social media Royal Wedding. Like the election debates, it will be TV that gets the big audiences but it will be the online networks that feel the buzz…Everyone will get a chance to have their say, regardless of the official or mass media coverage.”

So, how will coverage of the voting on the 5th May differ to what we saw last May in the General Election? We’ve already seen the BBC live blogging its election coverage and The Telegraph had an interactive election map, to name just two tools journalists have used in their past coverage.

With the arrival of the latest app – an iPhone canvassing app – this election will be what Peter Murrell, chief executive of the SNP, calls in a Caledonian Mercury article: “the first social media election”.  He claims: “the Tories spent a lot of money on social media last year but the country wasn’t quite ready. This year it is.”

And if MPs are using iPhone apps to canvas and Twitter and Facebook to connect with the electorate, you can bet your bottom dollar, the journalists won’t be far behind.  Take for example, how much discussion’s been stimulated by the referendum and, more to the point, the platforms being used on which to discuss the issues: there’s a Google groups AV debate and even a Facebook app that lets you try out AV, using polls and trivial examples:

Fun examples help the young (and typically apathetic) engage with what the referendum’s all about!

And for the journalists? Well the struggle to engage young people with politics is a subject about which the journalist typically finds much to write – even the BBC’s at it! So FB apps like this one get their own fair share of news coverage, for instance on this LSE blog post.  Social media is increasing the demographic who can follow, participate in and enjoy the upcoming election (referendum).  And the journalists have picked up on that: it’s not just straight results coverage with statistics and analysis anymore.

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