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Will social media really decide the election?

August 14, 2013

By Harrison Polites

Kevin Rudd shaving cut_0It was the cut that stopped the nation.

With one nick of the razor and a quick happy snap with his smartphone, Kevin Rudd turned a rather mundane experience into a social media sensation.

The Instagramed photo of Rudd – and his barely bleeding cheek – ricocheted across social media, accumulating over 8000 likes, 295 retweets and went on to hijack the mainstream news agenda.

As bizarre as it sounds, Kevin Rudd’s shaving cut is a clear reminder of both the power and reach of social media. But by the same token, did it really do anything for Rudd popularity or his credibility as Prime Minister? Many just took to the internet to criticise his lack of grooming skills.

There is an unspoken disconnect between social media and politics. We know that in Australia, politics and policy is one of the most popular topics of discussion on these platforms. But what we don’t know is whether all this chatter is actually changing opinions or just consolidating existing views.

It’s a potent question, given that we’re in the middle of election that is purportedly going to be heavily influenced by tweets and Facebook posts.

Over the past couple of weeks, the interplay between social media and the election has dominated the headlines. Tony Abbott’s been accused of buying fake Twitter supporters, and Rudd has imported US president Barack Obama’s crack team of social media experts to hound his opponents with viral videos, and now, in perhaps the ultimate nod towards the apparent importance of these platforms, there’s even talk of a second election debate over Facebook.

On the surface, it seems both sides of politics are treating social platforms as a key battle ground. But will conquering the Twittersphere really decide the election? Not likely.

Rayid Ghani, the Obama 2012 campaign’s former chief scientist, says social media does have a role to play but it won’t make or break a government.

Ghani should know, given his key role in harnessing new technologies – like social media – to help Barack Obama win his second term in office.

Rather perpetuate the hype around social media and campaigns, Ghani flatly rejects blanket statements like ‘Twitter will predict an election’ or ‘Facebook likes will lead to votes’.

“Technology is a supporting tool. It can make a good campaign better, but it can’t save a horribly run campaign with a bad candidate,”he says. Read more in Business Spectator.

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