The Ascendance of Social Media


The evolution of social media, like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, from platforms facilitating networks among friends to powerful political tools has been a momentous development

The political role of social media in American politics was established during the 2008 presidential election. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s social-media strategy revolutionized campaigning by altering the structure of political organizing. Obama’s campaign took on the characteristics of a social movement with strong digital grassroots mobilization (Bimber, 2014). The campaign exploited the networking, collaborating, and community-building potential of social media. It used social media to make personalized appeals to voters aided by data analytics that guided targeted messaging. Voters created and amplified messages about the candidates without going through formal campaign organizations or political parties (Stromer-Galley, 2016).

The most popular viral videos in the 2008 campaign, BarelyPolitical.com’s “Obama Girl” and will.i.am’s “Yes, We Can,” were produced independently and attracted millions of viewers (Wallsten, 2010). In this unique election, the calculated strategies of Obama’s official campaign organization were aided by the spontaneous innovation of voters themselves. Going forward, campaigns—including Obama’s 2012 committee—would work hard to curtail outside efforts and exert more control over the campaign-media process (Stromer-Galley, 2016).

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