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Obama And Romney's Biggest Social-Media Fails

Social media has changed the election game forever by shining a continual light, from every possible direction, on every move a high-profile candidate makes. Here's where the candidates tripped up—and what we can learn from it.

Just as social media heavily impacted this year’s London Summer Olympics, it’s also playing a very prominent part in this year’s U.S. presidential election. In 2008, President Obama showed everyone just how powerful social media could be. Now, both sides are proving just how essential leveraging Facebook, Twitter, and other online platforms are to a successful run at the White House.

As Michael Slably, an Obama campaign officer, put it, "There was a lot of talk post-'08 about it being the social media election. But the reality is, Twitter launched during the last campaign, and Facebook had less than 100 million users. We were at the very beginning of what it meant to be social."

There’s no question that social media has now come of age—and that the online stakes are incredibly high for both Romney and Obama. Of voting-age social-media users, 94% are getting most of their political messaging from the Internet, according to a 2011 study. Those same users are more influenced by their Facebook friends than the evening news. In other words, if you’re not winning over Facebook fans, you may not win your contest on Election Day.

The constant social media spotlight has meant several significant "campaign stops" for both candidates as unexpected Internet blowbacks forced them to pause and take stock of how the ongoing onslaught of online scrutiny has suddenly turned conventional politics upside down.

Here are three of the most significant ones:

Campaign Stop #1: Fact-Checking Is Now an Amateur Sport

In the past, a candidate’s minor "exaggeration" might have slipped by relatively unnoticed. Now, when Republican VP candidate Paul Ryan mentioned in a radio interview that he once ran a marathon in under three hours, the Internet exploded with rebuttals from a runners’ website named, whose users hate people who cheat on their times and do everything in their power to bust them. The site’s forum discussion on the topic finally grew to 32 pages and over 600 posts and spurred Runner’s World to track down the marathon Ryan ran in and nail down his real time (about an hour longer). This kind of online diligence has caused veteran reporters to increasingly confront candidates on their, as Stephen Colbert puts it, "truthiness" much more than in previous campaign years.

Campaign Stop #2: The Speed of Social Media Is a Double-Edged Sword

When a preview of an amateurish anti-Islam movie was released on YouTube, it went viral around the globe, including Arab countries. It was condemned by Egypt’s Grand Mufti in September 9th and at noon local time, aware of the rising tensions, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo tweeted, "Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy," and a few minutes later, "US Embassy condemns religious incitement."  The attack that resulted in the deaths of several American Embassy officers came after these tweets.

The Romney campaign, thinking the tweets were a reaction to the attacks, quickly issued a statement condemning the Obama Administration for sympathizing with the attackers. Once the media caught on that the tweets came before the attack—and that the Obama administration had not authorized the tweets from the Embassy—Democrats and Republicans were condemning Mitt Romney for acting too fast without the facts in hand. Romney had to learn a hard lesson that the instant power of social media is as much a danger as it is an opportunity.

Campaign Stop #3: Social Media Knows Where You’re Hiding

President Obama recently took to the popular social website Reddit to take part in one of its popular "Ask Me Anything" sessions, in which Reddit users can literally ask the participant any question they want. In this case, the most frequently asked question of Obama was what his position was on the legalization of marijuana and the drug war in general. Obama had the time to reveal his favorite NBA team (The Bulls, of course), but he continually ducked the drug question and took a lot of heat for it. Since many in his base are for looser drug restrictions, he disappointed a lot of potential voters.

Social media has changed the election game forever by shining a continual light, from every possible direction, on every move a high-profile candidate makes. That’s never truer than in a Presidential election—and 2012 will undoubtedly change many a campaign game plan for years to come.

[Image: Flickr user Gioconda Beekman]

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  • Lilah Hansen

    After reviewing the debate last night, I can't help but feel that Romney gave the Americans music for their ears . . he only told us what he thought we wanted to hear.  To get the real story either listen to the tape where he blows off 47% of the people or read the Book of Mormons.  You will know where you stand.  If you're not LDS or part of the Billionaire Boys Club . . . you're nothing.  :(

  • NaplesSam

    Rotary creed says...In the things we do and say

    Is it the Truth? 

    Obviously Ryan isn't a Rotarian...if he fudges on a simple marathon, WHAT else will he lie to us about.

  • 7eni2ss8

    Yes, and the fact that Facebook and Twitter is
    where most people are now getting their information is what Lincoln called
    Mobocracy. It's pathetic and dangerous to our democracy. It’s a DEVO, not something
    to be celebrated.


    I was in debate 35 years ago, learning Socratic
    method. I recognize real exchange, real debate. What is happening today has no
    semblance. These speed-debates, terror-tactics are worthless and are not
    helping with dialogue that is leading our country anywhere except into further
    divisiveness. No facts required. No temperance. No cooling off period before
    one person sees another to discuss an opinion or idea. No respect for your
    opponent. No social filters to check drama and childishness. We have finally
    achieved a pure Sibling Society (e.g. Bly), where children blurt out schoolyard
    insults at each other, immediately get offended, punch, scream, pull hair, and
    confabulate. What's worse is that what used to be a media expected to acted as
    adults, are whipping it into a frenzy themselves, and report this is all
    legitimate and good, further confounding the problem.


    This mirror of ugliness is not the better side
    of America. I have friends in other countries, and they have been watching our
    spin cycle into the toilet for years. They are very concerned, as they have
    looked to the US for leadership. I have no explanation, and nothing to tell
    them except my belief that this is just a nasty cycle we are going through.


    Lincoln was right. Mob rule is dangerous. There
    is a reason why our founding fathers set us up as a republican representative
    democracy. We elect officials who are supposed to represent us, study issues, and
    use cooler heads than the mob to make decisions for the greater good. When the
    electorate believes it should take things into their own hands, and has all the
    information to directly make decisions, i.e. become a direct democracy, look
    out, that’s a slippery slope. THAT is where we are headed.


    Facebook and Twitter are SOCIAL sites where
    people can brag about winning computer games, show cute pictures of their cats,
    trade stories of their grandkids or look for the next date. Outstanding! Perhaps
    people feel the need for that rather than finding a human and talking, or
    picking up those outdated things called phones. But it’s not the proper forum
    for deciding important issues in a democracy. People need to face each other
    and experience real dialogue and debate, with real facts, real emotion, real
    respect, and real consequences many times for that to happen.