This post was written by a student in the Stanford’s Winter 2011 Networked Rhetoric class; it was designed to focus in on a particular source or research experience related to his/her project on social media and digital culture . See a more detailed overview of this assignment.
My research topic deals with the effect social networking sites have had on American politics. In the last 10 years the growing popularity of social networking sites like Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter has increased to the point that politicians have begun using them in their campaigning and government strategies. In the same way, citizens have begun to use these sites not just for social connection, but also for political discussion. The focus of my research is to show that the introduction of social networking into the political realm has benefited citizens by strengthening the practice of two fundamental ideas of democracy, communication and participation, while also offering politicians a powerful, yet potentially damaging, tool for governing and campaigning.
Today I’d like to look at a specific, contemporary case study that I have found relevant to my research. I will examine President Barack Obama’s use of the social networking Twitter in relation his State of the Union address. This case study illustrates many of the concepts that I refer to in my research. In particular, it demonstrates how social networking has strengthened the American democratic process by increasing communication and participation.
A quick look at the President’s Twitter profile shows that he has been encouraging and aiding citizens in setting up “watch parties” for the State of the Union address using online sources. He then had his staff Tweet the highlights of his speech as he delivered it. Finally, he provided a link to a collection of public reaction to the address. Tomorrow, he will answer question submitted about the address via YouTube. This series of events is a great example of advancing democracy. There is politician to citizen communication through direct interface on Twitter. Participation in the political process will be increased through the planned watch parties. The parties also serve to foster citizen to citizen communication about political issues, as does the link to reactions to the address. Finally, citizen-politician communication is evident when the President answers questions online submitted by his constituents.
In this short sequence of actions, President Obama used a social networking site to advance democracy in a way not possible before the introduction of social networking technology. He streamlined citizen/politician dialogue, a fundamental principle of democracy. He also helped stimulate citizen/citizen communication about political issues and make a good effort at increasing citizen participation, two driving forces of democracy. In this simple case study, President Obama shows us how social networks are creating a more ideal democracy for the American people.