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Politics: Web 2.0 – VulnerableSpace: A Comparison of 2008 Official Campaign Websites and MySpace

(cross posted at TechPresident)

I’m in the second morning session at Politics: We 2.0. Paul Zube from Michigan State is walking us through an analysis of candidate use of MySpace versus their own websites. His assumption was the campaigns, which are control/image oriented would be able to serve less interactive content via MySpace (limited primarily by the platform) and would have less control of the content than their campaign site provides.

Zube identified 5 Types of Comments left on candidate MySpace pages.

  • Thanks – for adding me as a friend
  • Support – I’m glad you’re running
  • Intention to Act – I’ll be voting for you in the primary
  • Challenge – Questioning policy or personality
  • Spam

His study indicates that spam started low and increased dramatically; the challenge comments were infrequent, generally personal in nature, and rarely policy related; and none of the challenge comments were answered by the campaigns. Challenge comments were also rarely addressed by others in the community.

Zube explores the motivations for participating. He identifies the risk of exposure, image challenges and Spam/harassment as the key negatives. Rewards he identified are minimal and suggests candidates are using social networks simply to appear trendy.

There was no direct comparison of message or mobilization tactics on candidate sites versus MySpace.

Interestingly, he is the first person here that I have heard give specific recognition to the fact that candidates do not engage in these activities with an altruistic goal of making Democracy better, but rather to win elections. I think most of the audience on this site would recognize that as a universal truth.

Following Zube, Rebecca Hayes addressed the ways candidates used these social networks and began with an explanation that her further studies revealed under 18 audiences were not engaging before coming of election age, and typically did not engage at 18 because they felt candidates were ignoring them and not speaking to their issues.

While studies show adult web users are more likely than their peers to vote, the youth who are very engaged online, are less likely to vote. Hayes explores central route and peripheral route decision making. Central route relies on rational decision making while peripheral route relies on external cues to spur decisions. She suggests that her study indicates young voters are more inclined to peripheral decision making.

This dovetails into a discussion of political information efficacy or the individuals belief that they have the knowledge to make an informed vote. Young voters typically have low PIE and thus don’t vote. Older voters are more comfortable in their knowledge opinion.

Hayes asks whether candidates did any focus grouping with younger voters to determine what should appear on their network sites. Speaking only for Thompson, I can’t imagine that happened in most campaigns, but it’s an interesting idea.

The interesting research in her project was the polling of SocNet users pre- and post- exposure to candidate sites. 411 undergrad students across 4 majors. The respondents were gauged on intention to vote before and after exposure. Measures of site credibility were also studied.

Study respondents indicated candidate websites and Facebook were much more credible than MySpace, but even they were only moderately credible. 50% stated that they did not like candidates being online. They considered it an invasion of their space and 30% explicitly stated they would not vote based on their SocNet participation.

Interestingly, pre-testing indicated 93% intended to vote, so post-testing wouldn’t have been productive. Since this age group has never exceeded slightly better than 50% in actual turnout, the study indicates many say they intend to vote despite actual performance and results are skewed.

Conclusions drawn from the study indicated that students felt sites were superficial and didn’t offer meaningful content, but paid lip service to them.

the first two portions of this panel were very interesting. The final speaker presented the topic “I Became Facebook Friends with the Prime Minister” which discussed Danish elections of 2007. The speaker began by requesting that his presentation not be quoted without his prior approval.

This reflects a larger trend that Micah and I have discussed here. This is a conference about web 2.0, that attempts to explore web 2.0 use by political actors, but completely fails to recognize the encroachment of the Internet and Web 2.0 on its own world.

Almost none of the participants here are blogging. Before the first session Micah asked if anyone present knew of a tag being used for blogging the conference. To a person, everyone in the room stared at him as if a third arm had suddenly sprung from his forehead.

For a web 2.0 conference, the participants are remarkably web 1.0 (perhaps even web 0.5).

Written by Michael Turk