Eric Stubben is a mechanical engineering junior and Mustang News conservative columnist. | Ian Billings/Mustang News

Eric Stubben

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Eric Stubben is a mechanical engineering junior and Mustang News conservative columnist. These views do not necessarily reflect the opinion or editorial coverage of Mustang News.

I have a confession: I am what some would call a “Twitterholic.”

I’m not the biggest fan of Facebook, couldn’t care less about Instagram and Snapchat just isn’t my thing.

As the midterm elections ramped up, political activity slowed down. The coming of the political downtime mixed with the need to study for midterms seemingly skyrocketed my use of Twitter. Come on, what’s the fun in solving some bizarre engineering problem when I can post a quality tweet instead? By some odd turn of events, however, my go-to tool for procrastination turned out to be my inspiration for this column.

While I scrolled through tweets from our own Department of State, Department of Agriculture, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and various other political figures that ended up in my feed, I began to realize the impact of social media on politics and elections in the United States and around the world.

As a society, we’re more connected than we’ve ever been. We’re able to see the words and thoughts of leaders worldwide in real time via social media. People are flooded with information, links and opinions, forcing them to discern what is real and what is not. In fact, nearly three quarters of Americans use social media, 18 percent of Americans are on Twitter and Facebook has more than 1 billion users.

Though social media is becoming ever present in politics, I’ve voiced my skepticism and am still skeptical about how much good it does. Oftentimes, tweets and posts turn into a false sense of action. Do those same tweets and posts actually turn into votes? I don’t have a statistics answer to that question, but I’d be willing to go out on a limb and say that more often than not, the opinions represented on social media do not translate into a bubble on the ballot.

Though I criticized social media as a shelter for critical voices in a previous column, I’m beyond that, and in all honesty, probably even guilty of it. What I believe is more frustrating is the way social media filters and skews information.

“Likes” and “follows” define what information a social media user sees in their feed. I’d like to think social media helps inform these users about politics and various issues, but I’m a realist. Most people have preconceived notions and beliefs. I can only help but think that the tailored information that comes across personalized user feeds adds to the stifling partisanship and rigidity in politics today.

To see the effects of Twitter’s character limit, one only has to look back to the 2012 presidential election. While it was widely recognized that Mitt Romney outperformed Barack Obama over the course of their debates, Romney ended up losing via social media. With debates and speeches condensed to 140 characters, Romney’s “binders full of women” and “cut PBS funding” remarks were widely spread. In a world where everything can be condensed to 140 characters, even small blunders can be blown into huge mistakes.

Politico writer John Harris suggests that constant communication and information “means that politics simply moves faster.” Since the 2008 presidential election, I believe he’s right. Between the Democrats’ constant posting of #WarOnWomen or Republicans honing in on #ObamaCare, nearly every issue or political race is accompanied by a hashtag.

In the meantime, politicians are continually looking for ways to one-up each other in terms of social media. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton sporadically writes for BuzzFeed while his Democratic ally Harry Reid started a Spanish Twitter account to connect with Latino voters (although it hasn’t caught on). In an attempt to undermine President Obama’s social media success, Romney hired roughly 200 staffers to deal solely with social media and the Internet back in his 2012 presidential campaign.

Though Romney’s attempts at social media relevance did not go unnoticed, he failed to succeed in social media’s entire purpose: connecting with his audience. Though many Americans, including myself, liked Romney’s message and political stances, he rarely let the enthusiasm of his beliefs shine through the screen of social media.

Though the Republicans deserve a pat on the back for their efforts and successes in the midterm elections, now is not the time to become complacent, especially when it comes to social media. They succeeded in washing away the so-called #WarOnWomen (there was never really a war), and now is the time for Republicans to gain some social media momentum. Use social media effectively: Be creative, be smart and let emotions through to highlight the significance of and confidence in conservative values.

Gone are the days of relying on mailed flyers and door-to-door campaigning. While those are still useful and important campaign tactics, voter outreach and political mobilization now include mobilizing thoughts, promises and stances about the web in hopes of garnering more votes.

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