SEOUL (June 22, 2012) — Most members of the media are aware of the role that social media networks like Twitter and Facebook play in shaping modern journalism, but people may be less aware of social media’s impact on politics around the world.
In a panel discussion at the East-West Center’s 2012 International Media Conference in Seoul, South Korea, American political strategist Joe Trippi and Singaporean politician Nicole Seah touted the growing importance of social media in politics.
Trippi spoke first, citing the 2002 South Korean presidential election as an influence for his creation of Howard Dean’s Internet campaign in 2004. The success with which citizens of South Korea, one of the world’s most wired countries according to Forbes.com, conducted the campaign for winning candidate Roh Moo-Hyun online inspired Trippi to move American politics toward Internet and social media communication.
“Power is shifting to the people,” Trippi said, “to the bottom-up participatory democracy. There’s a massive shift not just in how we communicate, but in who has the power to communicate.”
Trippi gave statistics about increases in Facebook and Twitter popularity, noting that Facebook grew from 100 million users in 2007 to 900 million users today. Similarly, he said, Twitter had 2 million users by the end of the American presidential campaign of Barak Obama in 2008, and today it has 160 million users worldwide.
Referencing American political consultant James Carville’s 1992 quote, “It’s the economy, stupid,” Trippi said he believes the economy may no longer be the most important area for campaigning politicians to consider.
“The economy always matters,” he said, “but recently I think ‘it’s the network, stupid.’”
Trippi went on to discuss the current American presidential campaign, noting the strength of Obama’s social media efforts. His opponent Mitt Romney is conducting a more old-fashioned campaign, Trippi said, focusing on television ads sponsored by wealthy supporters, whereas Obama is creating “an army on the street” through social media, allowing him to be on “every screen, everywhere.”
Nicole Seah, Youth Chairperson of the National Solidarity Party in Singapore, knows first-hand the role that social media can play in a campaign. She said that Singapore has been governed by the same party for the past five decades, due to barriers for entry into elections by opposition parties. As a result, she said, there is a climate of fear about political openness in her country—an issue she hopes to help resolve.
In the 2011 general elections, Seah said, opposition parties took to Facebook and Twitter to get around government control of campaigns. Photographers and writers documented the campaigns online, while activists created Internet memes and hashtags on Twitter to spread their views.
She said Singapore is now ushering in a new phase of public discourse. Politicians have started to recognize social media as a communication channel, she said, and people now actively create and seek out online communities to find people with similar views and opinions.
Seah summed up the general theme of the session by saying, “The best way to maintain power is to understand that people do have opinions, and people need to be heard.”
– Reporting by Kaitlin Steinberg, Missouri School of Journalism