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Local campaigns on social media

BY NICK MOFFITT | OCTOBER 10, 2014 5:00 AM

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The Nov. 4 election is rapidly approaching in Johnson County for local campaigns, and many are highlighting social media as a new approach to reach voters.

According to the Pew Research Center, around three-fourths of all adults are on Facebook or other forms of social media. Ninety percent of college-age people on the social-networking sites.

One Democratic challenger for the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, Mike Carberry, said he’s been on Facebook for around five years, mostly to share information relevant to his campaign.

“I really use it to disseminate information relevant to the campaign,” he said.

Carberry’s page, Carberry for Supervisor, boasts 535 likes, and he said students may be one demographic easily reached by online campaigns, something he targets when posting.

“Students are a little bit more apt to social media,” he said.

On Oct. 7, he posted photos and information inviting people to march along with him and University of Iowa Democrats in the Homecoming Parade.

Louis Jacobson, deputy editor at PolitiFact, an online political fact-checking organization affiliated with the Tampa Bay Times, said one benefit social media can offer a campaign is a direct line of communication to potential voters.

“Campaigns now have a way that isn’t the media,” he said “They can craft their message.”

Jacobson said on the national level, every campaign is going to have a person working with social media because of the ease of getting information out.

Speeding up the news cycle and allowing things to go viral is one way social media have improved the control campaigns have over the information that is spread.

The Yes Campaign for the local-option sales tax on the ballot for Johnson County takes advantage of the ability to quickly spread information about the penny-sales-tax initiative by using social media, specifically Twitter.

The campaign has only had a short amount of time since the official language was decided, and social media have been a major part of spreading information, organization co-head and Iowa City Mayor Pro Tem Susan Mims said.

On Sept. 14, the group tweeted to announce the launch of its official website, along with following up in later weeks with information about the cause.

“I look at it as one more way to try to reach people,” Mims said.

She said social media could influence people heavily if they are connected with someone who is fully informed on the subject and may share information, leading to more votes.

Johnson County Supervisor Republican John Etheredge said that to him, social media are places to focus on getting small amounts of information out.

“[People] get sound bites from social media, but it doesn’t tell you the whole story,” he said.

Etheredge occasionally posts to the Facebook page John Etheredge for Johnson County Supervisors about relevant news articles or information.

Mostly, he said, he has tried to funnel Internet traffic to his website instead, where he believes people can become more informed about his views and vote with a fully informed opinion.

Something Carberry describes as a drawback of social media is they can become an “echo chamber.”

“What you need is new people,” he said. “People who like you on Facebook are already likely to vote for you.”

Part of the effectiveness of social media, Jacobson said, is the type of personality a person has on social media.

He said people enjoy something like Sen. Charles Grassley’s or Rep. John Dingell’s tweets.

For instance, Grassley, who has about 78,000 followers, often tweets updates from UNI women’s volleyball games and Q&A sessions he has had with constituents. On July 18, he tweeted, “if at first u don’t succeed sky diving is not for u.”

Jacobson said these Twitter pages are popular because of the unedited and personal nature of the accounts. For people who make statements putting themselves in a bad light, it can magnify those issues.

“To reach the younger people, [social media] have to be a part of your campaign,” Jacobson said.


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