How 2010 WAS the social media general election

A new study has revealed the extent to which social media influenced 18-24 year-olds in the run up to the May general election.

According to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism study, some 97 per cent of 18-24-year-olds used Facebook during the election period.

It says that this group used social media to discover and share content, discuss the election and join Facebook groups and polls.

The RISJ survey suggests that 18-24 year olds ‘receive most of their political information online and rarely read a printed newspaper or listened to radio for information”.

According to the RISJ: ‘Online news sources may be at the expense of newspapers and broadcasters, but the study says traditional forms of media have ‘normalised’ their use of social media, both as source material and to extend their own service. Newspaper and broadcast news websites are providing live blogs, digital correspondents, republication and retransmission, which has ‘helped to amplify the impact of social media even further’.”

The study notes that a campaign by the Electoral Commission to increase voter registration, working with Facebook and backed up by ads on TV and radio, helped half a million people used the registration form on the Electoral Commission website. According to the RISJ, almost half of them were aged between 18-24 years old.

The study also highlights the fact that over a million people used vote comparison tools like Vote Match to help them choose their political party at the last election.

Study author Nic Newman said: ‘Before the 2010 UK election, it was being billed as the internet election. Ironically, the biggest media story of the election ended up being a television event: a set piece leadership debate which turned the campaign on its head – with the internet seen as a sideshow.

‘However, this research shows how the internet enabled the election to come alive and engage, particularly the younger electorate. This study shows that far from becoming disengaged from the political process, as some had feared would happen, young voters tweeted, blogged and used online chat-rooms to discuss the last election.

‘There is also evidence to show that online information, context and real-time feedback enriched and invigorated the mainstream election coverage in newspapers, TV and radio.’

According to Newman, Twitter has ‘cemented its place as a core communication tool’amongst political and media circles.

He noted that 600 political candidates engaged with Twitter during the campaign and that nearly 200 members of the new parliament, including five members of Cabinet, are currently active on Twitter.

The RISJ polled around 200 18-24 year olds between 3 and 10 May 2010 in an online survey.

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