Social media used effectively during presidential debate
Published: Friday, October 5, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 5, 2012 08:10
Most articles about Wednesday’s presidential debate are quick to mention the first televised debate, which occurred between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy in 1960. Those listening to the debate via radio were sure that Nixon sealed the deal with more convincing discourse. TV audiences, however, saw a more poised and secure candidate in Kennedy.
Whether it was fatigue from the rigors of the campaign trail or something else that made Nixon seem less-than-healthy, United States citizens’ preference for the calm and collected, attractive and younger candidate aided in Kennedy’s victory.
Though it may be a tired allusion, journalists refer to that debate for a reason; it was a tangible illustration of the power of image – especially conveyed through the remarkably accessible means of TV. Americans, who previously would have had no choice but to focus solely on what candidates were actually saying, were now able to see what their potential leaders looked like under pressure – including all of the subtle body language that cannot be heard over the radio’s waves.
Politicians learned, how ever slowly, they must not only speak with self-assurance, but they also need to mimic that same composure in their physical appearance. TV revolutionized the way campaigns were run and forever altered what we consider acceptable in our politicians’ appearances.
In extreme cases, this pressure on appearance results in ridiculous politicians spending more than $1,000 on a single haircut (I’m looking at you, John Edwards).
We haven’t moved past the image fixation, of course. We still like our politicians with thousand-dollar suits, even smiles and kind eyes. Though we’ve already heard the stances of the presidential candidates, viewers watched the televised debate Wednesday to see how the candidates reacted to questions about their platforms. We want to see some evidence that they can handle the unimaginable pressures of leading the U.S.
The majority of news sources, both televised and online, declared Mitt Romney the victor after this debate, which is the first of three between the opposing candidates. This is probably due to his ability to answer questions while appearing relaxed and congenial. He maintained eye contact with the camera, and he was enthusiastic.
This year, however, the widespread use of social media brought the presidential debate back into the realm of speech. While what we saw is still a factor, those on social networking sites concerned themselves with what each candidate had to say when tackling the issues.
What I noticed from social media was a consideration of others’ viewpoints and (mostly) polite divergences. Rather than arguing issues with one another, people were invested in critiquing what their politicians were trying to sell them. This skepticism will serve people, allowing them to be discerning when voting.
On a larger scale and swifter than ever before, voters could engage one another in dialogue about what each candidate proclaimed. This dialogue shows investment, which – as low voter turnout, especially among the youth (i.e., social media users) will show – is hard to conjure. The accessibility of online debates via social media facilitated the sharing of knowledge and inspired people to consider others’ opinions.
My observations about the critical eye with which online socializers view their candidates were confirmed by a study conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism during Republican and Democratic conventions. Pew found the discussions of both candidates during this time was largely negative and critical across the Web.
Of course, there are inherent negatives to relying on social media alone when deciding for whom to vote, like the fact that people lie and manipulate just as easily online as they do in person. But my optimistic hope is that an invested populace will try to cast an educated vote.
I am, compared to most of my peers, a Luddite. Sure, I use social media, and I recently got an iPhone. But I don’t like the pressure I feel to keep my Facebook activated, and though I find it really cool, Skype makes me feel a little uncomfortable. After Wednesday’s debate, however, social media has restored my faith in United States citizens’ willingness to make informed decisions at the polls in November.
My faith in the average citizen is constantly in flux. We live in a world that often overvalues celebrity and appearance rather than ability; a world in which the balance of power is skewed along arbitrary lines that mean nothing to anyone except those who hold it; a world in which the "Honey Boo Boo Child" and her family are considered entertainment.
I’m nearly convinced, with some major evidence from outspoken tweeters, that in 2012, the presidential election will not rest entirely on empty sound bites and silk ties.
It will be decided by open conversation and debate amongst the people – the Tweeters, the Facebookers, the redditors or whatever site people use to communicate with the rest of the U.S. – which is the way it should be.