Queen's University — Since 1873
5th February 2010

Growing e-battle for student votes

‘The only content that grows legs on Facebook is stuff that people find shareable’

Social media has a growing impact on student elections, film studies professor Sidney Eve Matrix says.
Social media has a growing impact on student elections, film studies professor Sidney Eve Matrix says. (Tyler Ball)

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The AMS election may be over, but the use of social media as a campaigning tool is just taking off, film studies professor Sidney Eve Matrix said.

“Long after the elections, many people involved will have learned valuable lessons about the power of social media,” Matrix said.

Both teams running for AMS executive used social media such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook during their 10-day campaign.

Team CHR, comprised of presidential candidate Safiah Chowdhury, vice-president (operations) candidate Ben Hartley and vice-president (university affairs) candidate Chris Rudnicki, had a Twitter page @votechr, three original videos at the YouTube channel “votechr” and a Facebook fan page.

Team PNF, comprised of presidential candidate Mitch Piper, vice-president (operations) candidate Kasmet Niyongabo and vice-president (university affairs) candidate Davina Finn, had a Twitter page at @VotePNF, two original videos on Niyongabo’s YouTube channel “kasmet” and a Facebook fan page.

“Pages are more public than groups,” Matrix said.

Matrix said Facebook is the most effective of the three social networks, with YouTube as second and Twitter as third.

“The demographics of Twitter are not ideal for student elections because it’s still a site only 20 per cent of college students use,” she said. “Over 90 per cent of college students are on Facebook.”

“It’s a site for participatory citizenship. … We can get really active for causes we believe in.”

Team CHR’s Facebook page had 1,104 fans as of last night and team PNF’s page had 862 members.

Some Facebook and Twitter critics surfaced during the campaign period. Facebook notes calling teams’ platform points into question gained considerable momentum and were often linked to on students’ Twitter pages. Some students also posted Facebook notes refuting the criticisms.

“The only content that grows legs on Facebook is stuff that people find shareable,” Matrix said, adding that most users are still unaware of how powerful social media is. “There could be a misconception that digital content is in the hands of the creator,” she said. “Once you put information up, you may own it but you’re no longer necessarily in control of how it’s distributed. … It’s an enormous responsibility to use social media.”

Matrix said there’s a danger of content being misinterpreted and that misinformation being reproduced and widely spread.

“It sometimes surprises us that things we feel we’re just circulating between our personal networks get viral, fast, and the impact is amplified in ways that we may not have foreseen or intended,” she said. “Sometimes the message can be interpreted in ways that’s completely out of context. … It can result in reputational devastation before you know it.”

Matrix said social media became a significant force after U.S. President Barack Obama’s successful 2008 campaign.

“It’s a combination of Obama’s legacy of campaign strategy and the digital savvy of millenials coming together,” she said. “His campaign really raised people’s awareness of the power of social media.”

Matrix said she thinks social media will have a growing impact on future elections.

“In the future, elections will be an event around which students’ digital media skills are challenged and pushed in really creative ways because it’s something that so many people care about passionately.”

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