Connections Media’s Jonah Seiger on Social Media’s Role in Political Campaigns

Connections Media founder Jonah Seiger spoke with Facebook communications manager Matt Hicks for a post on the Facebook Blog, during which Seiger discussed the role of social media in election campaigns.

Highlights follow:

What we continue to see — and this is not a hard-and-fast rule — is that the challenger has an advantage because they have more degrees of freedom. The incumbent has more to protect, and so it’s a little bit more difficult to embrace fully the openness and decentralization that the Internet and social media, in particular, provides.

I think the example that’s most salient right now is the election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts (as a Republican U.S. senator). There was a combination of Martha Coakley’s campaign running a very traditional establishment (approach) against a very energetic challenger, who successfully nationalized the race using social media. And that (nationalization) channeled money, it channeled support, people talking about the campaign, generated press coverage, and just helped to propel them forward.

Now at the end of day, the election happened in Massachusetts, people voted only in Massachusetts. So nationalizing a race only gives you so much, but I think that story is an important example of some of what’s happening with politics and social media.

I do worry (that) as much as social media is powering greater participation in politics, it also has the effect of fragmenting and distilling (issues) to a slogan, almost. And I think it is becoming more difficult for us to have national conversations about complicated issues…I see it in the discussions about climate change, for example, and healthcare reform and creating jobs in this economy. We have lots of new opportunities to kind of shout at each other, and it’s a little harder to build consensus around complicated matters…

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