Emerging Tech

Your guide to the election and social media

Cienpies Design/AP

From targeted tweets to gaffes gone viral, social media has played a major role in the 2012 presidential election. As that race enters its final stretch, here are three social media stories to follow during Tuesday’s election and its aftermath.

Voting goes social:

As with most things in modern life, voting has become both a physical and a virtual experience. On Election Day, we can expect to see a lot of people sharing the fact they voted, who they voted for and other details about the experience online.

The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government built MyFairElections to harness some of that social energy. It’s a crowdsourced site that the center describes as “Yelp for voting.” It allows users to report on voting conditions at their polling sites, including long lines and potential voter suppression.

MyFairElections may mark the start of a stream of new voting-focused websites and mobile applications in 2014 and beyond. Slate business correspondent Matthew Yglesias speculated Monday the same technology that helps cut down on long lines at restaurants may one day help voters visit polling sites when they’re least crowded.

This year, though, the majority of online notices about voting -- and complaints about polling sites -- are likely to be posted to the traditional social media duo of Facebook and Twitter, said Aaron Smith, senior research specialist at the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

“People will be using their phones and social networking sites as a digital ‘I voted’ sticker,” Smith said. “We expect to see people documenting the voting process and the state of play in real time using mobile and social networking sites. We’ve seen evidence of that in the past and we expect to see more of that this year.”

A number of people already are tweeting about absentee and early votes, according to analysis that social media analytics firm Crimson Hexagon released Monday.

Between Oct. 15 and Nov. 5, 9 percent of people who tweeted about the Obama-Biden ticket stated they already had voted for the president and vice president, Crimson Hexagon said. About 4 percent of people who tweeted about the Romney-Ryan team stated they already had voted for the pair, according to the report.

Double screening the returns:

One in 10 viewers of the first presidential debate this year watched it on one screen while monitoring social media on another, an analysis by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found.

Pew researchers expect many Americans to watch the election returns the same way, Smith said. One result of that, he said, will be more rumors and speculation mixing in with firm projections.

“I’m sure there will be qualitative as well as quantitative changes in how people process the results themselves,” Smith said. “We’ll see a lot of information going out and people scrambling to figure out if it’s legitimate or not, asking ‘who can I bounce this off in my friend network? Who are trusted people I can get a sense of whether this is legitimate or not from?’”

Trusted Sources:

Finally, the pressure to compete with ultrafast social media reports could lead TV networks and traditional online media to privilege speed over accuracy as election news unfolds.

This year has been a particularly bad one for traditional media’s accuracy with breaking news, The New York Times’ Brian Stelter noted, prompted partly by increasing pressure to compete with social media. Chastened by 2000’s misreporting in Florida, TV networks have taken great care to not jump the gun on election returns. So far, at least. Stelter’s article describes numerous efforts media organizations are making this year to urge employees to stick with official results and not report or even re-tweet online chatter. 

(Image via Cienpies Design/Shutterstock.com)

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// October 17
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