Remember that time Nixon was sweaty in 1960?
I think we all do. Just as televised debates allowed us to see Nixon's sweaty upper lip, social media now gives us new ways to learn about our candidates. Television meant that politicians could no longer hide their appearances, and social media means that today's politicians can't hide from missteps or blundered statements.
A recent article on Fast Company had this to say on the issue:
" Social media has changed the election game forever by shining a continual light, from every possible direction, on every move a high-profile candidate makes."
Political gaffes, juicy gossip in their very nature, spread like wildfire online. Romney's 47% comment is proof of two new realities in American politics: there is no such thing as a 'private' event, and anything you say can be repeated months later on a variety of social and traditional media platforms. A political gaffe is the perfect ingredient for a viral piece of content, and a campaign disaster. The more drastically the politician blunders, the more likely it is likely to echo around the social media stratosphere.
So what's next?
While the 2012 election is certainly an interesting case study of social media's role in shaping elections, the 2028 cycle will be even more interesting. In 2028, my generation (the Millennials), will be approximately 35-40 years old. In 2028, we can run for President. Not only will social media have relevance in terms of campaign messaging and gaffe-spreading, but it will have relevance in terms of how we vet our potential candidates. Take a drunk picture at a frat party in 2011 and post it to Facebook? Look like an idiot in said picture? Odds are, someone will have it, and it will come to light when you run for office.
What can we do?
It is vitally important that we use the power of social media to our advantage as voters (and future candidates) in elections. We must fact-check and keep tabs on the candidates, and, perhaps most importantly, we must be sure that our own social media use will not be costly if we should enter the political ring several years from now.