the “social media generation” at the polls

According to interviews and recent surveys, younger voters tend to be not just consumers of news and current events but conduits as well — sending out e-mailed links and videos to friends and their social networks. And in turn, they rely on friends and online connections for news to come to them. In essence, they are replacing the professional filter — reading The Washington Post, clicking on — with a social one.

The New York Times has an interesting piece discussing the significance of word of mouth for politics in the digital age. The article surveys some of the tactics being used in the U.S. presidential race, focusing in particular on the Barack Obama campaign.

I’m particularly interested in the article’s assertion that the information that reaches people is often “shared, not sought.” The current generation of teens and twentysomethings expect constant communication from friends and others in their social network, and so they don’t find it off putting or unusual when those people forward along news articles, video clips, blog posts or anything else. The assumption seems to be that important information will make it into circulation. I wonder if this kind of attitude might also explain some of the changes in the readership of newspapers and other print publications. Under this model, not every person needs to read everything, as individuals will effectively trust their social network to intelligently aggregate content for them, and forward along the most valuable parts of whichever publications or information sources they use.

I wonder if, perhaps, this approach to information finding might be a response to “information overload” — rather than attempting to cull everything for themselves, people trust their social networks to function also as information and news networks, relying on the existing expertise of their friends.

The article also notes that Barack Obama has more MySpace friends than any of his competitors.

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2 Responses to the “social media generation” at the polls

  1. riddle says:

    Carly, interesting post. I wonder whether there are content differences between what people get through traditional gatekeepers vs. what they get through their social networks.

    My hunch is that the network places greater emphasis on entertainment value than “straight” news organizations do, particularly the print media: more dessert and fewer vegetables. I suspect people are also more likely to circulate items with an overt point of view than those taking the traditional journalistic stance of neutrality.

    Finally, I think that the emerging ecosystem takes professional journalism for granted as a source of raw material. If you look at the blog entries, YouTube videos and op-ed pieces being circulated on current events, you’ll find that they are usually responses to a straight news story of some kind. If the much-discussed threats to traditional journalism significantly erode coverage of local, national and international news, the apparent diversity of grassroots participatory media may end up with people actually discussing fewer and fewer topics.

    I wonder whether the situation is similar in Europe? Is there significant involvement of social network systems in European electoral politics? What about the role of European political bloggers?

  2. carly says:

    Yeah, the issue of journalism as raw material I think is definitely central. Often the best of these videos incorporate material from literally dozens of television newscasts, which demonstrates a significant level of engagement. Additionally, pieces often assume a fairly informed/sophisticated viewing audience — in most cases, the joke just isn’t funny unless you’re at least moderately well-informed in the first place.

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