Twitter and elections

2009 and 2010 are exciting years to study the Internet. Anyway, I think so. Some of you may know my academic life revolves around micro-blogging these last months and the coming ones as well. The reason is that Twitter is becoming more and more popular amongst politicians. Not only that, in 2009 we had the European parliament elections where Twitter was used by some of the candidates. In 2010 we had the local elections in the Netherlands. Some two weeks before that we (i.e. the Dutch) had a governmental meltdown: the social democratic party (PvdA) decided to quit the government. Therefore, we also have general elections on June 9th. And then there is South Korea, where on June 2nd, there are local elections. Oh yes, the UK has general elections as well: Gordon Brown has to set a date that is before June 3rd.

As for South Korea, some interesting thongs are happening here. Apparently the political parties are stepping up their online campaign activities, according this newspaper article.The Grand National Party handed out smart-phones to national assembly members and candidates, hoping they will pick up text-messaging and Twitter to connect to the public. The Democratic Party also stepped up their online activities, creating a network party. These effort can be necessary. I learned that politicians in South Korea have a considerable

The Korean Election Committee however seems to have some problems with these increasing online political activities. To ensure fairness in election campaigning several regulations apply. Striving for fairness in campaigning is of course essential. At the same it seems quite impossible to banish Twitter or other kinds of micro-blogging services (let’s not forget there are other ones besides Twitter, such as Me2day, Plurk and Renren). First of all, micro-blogging is sort of an informal way of disseminating information. It’s low profile, no dressed up website, but merely short texts. At the same time the messages are only actively targeted to those that explicitly subscribed to the Tweets of the candidate. These are the ones that are already interested in politics in general and the candidate in particular. These probably will need little convincing to vote for the candidate as it is. Furthermore, the question is to what extent the Tweets are actually campaigning messages or merely chitchat. Tweeting about daily issues (enjoying your coffee, being stuck in traffic) doesn’t look like political campaigning. That is, political campaigning in the strictest sense. For some time now, politicians, at least in western countries increasingly personalize their campaigns, presenting themselves as mortals having the same problems other people also have. By doing so they hope, is their guess, they appear as normal people made of flesh and blood and hopefully more likable. This in turn should ultimately lead to more votes in the elections. The jury’s verdict on that is still out.

Just recently, David Nieborg (University of Amsterdam), guest in the radio show Tros Radio Online, said that the new social-democratic party leader Job Cohen (the former leader Wouter Bos resigned two weeks after the local elections and 12 weeks prior to the general elections)  should start using Twitter. He predicted this could lead to four more seats in parliament. Well, I’m not that sure. Twitter is not online a micro-blogging service, but also a social-network site. A characteristic of a social network is homophily: people that are similar tend to form a social network. So what happens is that politicians using twitter are primarily preaching to the converted instead of the disbelievers. However, the disbelievers is where the electoral gain is to be expected. So, the effectiveness of Twitter and other social network sites as campaigning tools for more electoral gain is expected to be limited. However, the final verdict is to be passed by empirical research.

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The reluctant Web 2.0’er

Ever since the Internet came to my attention, I had a personal interest in it. This entailed surfing the web, downloading movies and music, reading in Usenet groups. All traditional stuff. Then came Web 2.0. And did things change? Well, yes: what was considered normal  to use did not seem normal to me. People asked me whether I Hyve (the activity to communicate and network through the Dutch social network site Hyves). Mmm, I didn’ t. “I’ll befriend you in Facebook!” someone wrote me. “Hold your horses, I don’t have a Facebook account!”, I replied. “Surely you use Twitter”, again someone else told me. “Nope, I don’t”, was my reply. This was some time ago. Not really interested from a personal point of view, that’s clear. Then again, I have my professional interests and found it necessary to experience myself to use Facebook, Hyves, LinkedIn, Twitter, Netlog, ResearcherId, Google docs, Zoho and the like. At first I only subscribed to see what the interfaces looked like, and what the applications could do. So, being a really really really passive participant. But, as often happens, one thing leads to another. Before you know it someone googles your name, and invites you to join his/her network. Well, I think it’s impolite to refuse an invitation, the more so because accepting these invites is merely a mouse click away. However, up till now I mostly accept invites from those I know. Recently I’ve been receiving invites from people unknown to me, and those that offer services that take relations to unwanted next levels. I’m sure you know what I mean. You don’t want to go there.

I’m still quite passive, only accepting invites, and rarely inviting others myself. There are those (even colleagues who shall remain nameless)  that compete with each other on who has the largest online network. This is quite similar as trying to get to most kudos on teen social network sites like Sugababes or Superdudes. But I digress…

Rereading what I am writing I must correct myself on my passivity in using SNSs: last week I even paid for a two year subscription of Flickr, the photo-sharing site. I ran out of the free online disk space. Since I have a website running at a hosting company I have ample disk space to construct my personal photo gallery. It would need some tinkering of the software and the online photo album would be a fact. But I didn’t. Instead I paid about 25 US$ for a two year expansion of the online Flickr disk space. Why? Web 2.0 is so easy to use and saves me a lot of time. And as we all know: time is money. And if I chose to setup my photo album I wouldn’t have time to post to my blog. And I know you don’t want me to stop my blog. So everyone’s happy: Flickr earned a buck, I can keep writing my blog and you can keep on reading.

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Be carefull to invest in new media

Apparently the credit crisis has led banks to looks for creative (read: cheap) ways to aquire market information. This market information is crucial to decide  where to invest their customer’s savings. Well, people should think twice to give their money to investment bank Morgan Stanley. Their 15 year old intern apparently wrote a report on youngster’s media use. His report pleasently surprised the management so much that they made it public. Apparently they are easy to impress.

The report concisely describes youngster’s use of many types of media. Most findings are not that surprising, but provide nice headlines: “Twitter is not for teens”. What casts doubt is that the intern selectively spoke to his peers. How many is not clear. As such they at best only provided a biased picture of their media use.

Is the intern to blame? Of course not. He most likely did his utmost to provide interesting results. Are people at Morgan Stanley to blame? Well, before I answer this question one could ask yourself why the bank decided to publish the report. Because the report was concise and well written? Or because they didn’t have any positive publicity recently?

But are these bankers to blame? Well, yes. These are educated people and should have spotted the limitations of the study. As such, future investments based on this report are at least very risky. Oh I forgot, taking risks is daily business for banks…

Another noteworthy issue is why newspapers noticed this item. Is it the findings? Or is it the fact that it involves a 15 year-old?

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