Blog Post

A Candidate You Can Count On: Tracking the GOP Candidates Use of Facebook During the Republican Primaries

Hi everyone, its been awhile seen I've posted, but rest assured I've been staying busy! While most of my research resides within interpersonal communication and its intersection with computer-mediated communication, I recognize the important role that CMC can play in a variety of other areas of our lives as well- and in this particular case, my interest in politics came into play for my latest project.

Since January I've been tracking the Facebook profile pages of GOP candidates and gathering data to analyze both the content of the posts made by the candidates themselves (i.e. what they're saying to constituents, and how they're saying it, whether that be text, image, or video) as well as how potential voters are responding to the candidates through comment threads on the page. I have to say, going into the analysis I felt sure of a few things based off studies done on Facebook and the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election: I expected to see active communication, and I expected that most people who posted on a page would be pro the candidate they were writing on the page for. 

Well, while I was right about the first one (Check out Rick Santorum's status update announcing he had suspended his campaign- it has 9,195 comments!) the second one appeared to be inconsistent with past research. While there are certainly fans out there of Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, etc, there appears to be quite a few more ANTI-fans frequenting their pages and the negativity that jumps from the comments is typically directed as personal attacks at each candidate, not just the issues they stand for (examples include "ha ha Rick quiting gets the most likes on his page LOL.Now go join the cult leader" and "Romney -- still no comments about the bigot woman hater Nugent, So when Hillary said that your wife never worked a day in her life witch is all true you and your FAKE wife get a FAKE outrage? Shame on you again you lose!!!")

While I'm still in the early stages of analysis- this was something I wanted to share to spark a discussion: why do you think people are so negative on these sites that are possible opportunties for discussion about candidates and their issues? While research from 2008 suggests that the discussions on Obama's page were more positive than McCain's I'm not sure we can attribute party politics alone to the negativity across each of the pages of all the GOP candidates. 

In the 2008 election Facebook had just 100 million users- today it has over 845 million. You have a vast audience that you're capable of reaching and communicating with, yet none of the GOP candidates (or their campaigns) are actively controlling the discussion that spurs from what they write. Its clear that the use of FB allows a candidate to reach a wide range of people- Mitt Romney posted a status update last night that already has over 1,000 comments; but if the candidates aren't engaging through the comment section, whats the benefit? How are these posts not just another opportunity, much like a news article, for hundreds of thousands of people to go to a single spot and fight about a topic? 

Just some food for thought as I delve back into my research, hope everyone's end of the semester is wrapping up well!

 

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