Social networks to determine 2010 Election outcome?

Summary:With the first UK election to truly embrace social media, will it have any major playing power in getting the politicians into power?

This week in the United Kingdom, the voting public go to the polls to elect their new government and local representatives in the 2010 General Election. This is one of the closest races in generations, and students nationwide will play an integral part to play, with Web and social media availability never seen before in a UK election.

Twitter has, especially over the last year or so, been a major source for breaking news and up to the minute information. It has in some cases surpassed the capabilities of news organisations which spend millions in funding correspondents  around the world.

With an election bringing breaking news almost every minute for the duration - especially with the last 72 hours to go before the public go to the polling stations - social networking has taken a major stake in spreading the message.

You would expect the usual tweeting and status posts from many party supporters; maybe even adding a Twibbon to their profile picture to increase exposure of their party choice. But the networks themselves, along with application developers and party spin doctors have jumped on the social media bandwagon to increase access for ordinary voting users into a platform for their opinion.

Let us not forget not only the high demographics of Facebook users being today's youth, but also how important their vote is to swing the balance. This said, a poll last month suggested that the vast majority of the Generation Y see politicians as out of touch, not focused on key issues to the youth demographic and that only a third of student-aged people will even vote.

Facebook groups have been popping up left, right and center; with a group almost being set up at a rate of one a minute. When the current Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, was overheard on a microphone calling an older woman a "bigot" and the subsequent blaming of his aide Sue Nye, the social media world erupted in true satirical sense. Nye became an Internet sensation within hours, and she hadn't even done a thing.

Most comedic material nowadays doesn't see the form of words on paper or a stand-up routine, more rather a PhotoShopped image which mocks the original content. These spread like wildfire and social networking - Facebook and Twitter in particular - can allow hundreds if not thousands of people to instantaneously mock the slogan, views or opinions of a political party.

Politicians are increasingly using social media to spread the message to their younger constituents. When the Prime Ministerial television debates, something which had never happened before in a UK election, YouTube and Facebook users could submit questions in a number of categories in a "transformative [sic] moment for democracy in Britain".

On the flip side, some prospective politicians have been killed off in the race to Parliament through tweets which have undermined their entire campaign. Labour candidate Stuart MacLennan was removed by the party after publishing tweets which offended many of his constituents, calling other politicians by swear words and some of his older supporters "coffin dodgers".

And as of publication, one Conservative prospective candidate Philippa Stroud has reached trending topic status on Twitter after a newspaper revealed that she had alienated her entire gay community by trying to "cure" homosexuality by driving out their "demons" through prayer.

In my opinion, though social networking has had a developed role to play during this election, with many of its users probably not voting for the aforementioned reasons, it may not have the necessary impact to make a difference. On the other hand in this election, the possibility of a hung parliament and no overall majority could result in social media having a major difference. Then again, it wouldn't be any different to say, print media or television broadcasts.

One thing is for sure is that social networking as far as Twitter and Facebook are concerned, will have a major effect on the correlations between the Generation Y and trends in voting.

Topics: Networking, Social Enterprise

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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