I know that on Oct. 16 Turlock mayoral candidate Gary Soiseth was playing a ukulele with the Sunshine Strummers and mayoral candidate Mike Brem loves walking precincts and relaxing in the pool with his grandchildren. Did I learn this information from the Journal's dedicated election reporters who are spending every hour with the candidates on the campaign trail? I wish. Rather, I know these things because I read them on Facebook.
All those who became eligible to vote or started being political active in the past five years may not think keeping up with candidates through Facebook is that big of a deal — but it really is. We have President Barack Obama to thank for this social media trend.
Obama's 2008 presidential campaign was the first time a national candidate effectively used social media as a major campaign strategy. The 2008 campaign may not seem like that long ago, but in 2007 Twitter had only just started and there wasn't even an iPhone yet.
According to an article published in The National Psychologist by Dr. Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, social media creates a new political dialogue.
"It takes the power of political messaging away from the mass media model and places it firmly into peer-to-peer, public discourse," according to Rutledge.
This new mass media model has an impact. According to Pew Research, 66 percent of social media users actively engage in political activism online. And researchers at the MacArthur Research Network on Youth & Participatory Politics report that young people who are politically active online are twice as likely to vote than those who are not.
It makes sense: marketers have known for decades that people are more likely to purchase something (or support someone) when that product is recommended by their friends, colleagues and peers. When you see daily messages from your Facebook "friends" saying vote for Juan Smith, you may accept that advice just like you might for a new restaurant review.
All this social media contact may be great for reaching a larger (and younger) voter base, but there's definitely a downside. Social media was created for instantaneous communication — you post photos of yourself on Instagram when you're at the Halloween party, not four days later. But, for political candidates, it's usually better to think before speaking (or Tweeting).
For example, Turlock City Council candidate Donald Babadalir posted the following comments to his Facebook page on Thursday:
"It is no secret that candidates are going around telling people to only give one vote so as to increase the chances of the candidate winning. And it's true, it does help. With there being only two seats up for grabs and Bill DeHart being in a strong first, it is obvious that I have the best shot at the second seat. Therefore, I ask that you help me win that seat by voting only for me. I have the education and the experience as well as plenty of rapport already built with the Turlock community. I took a stance against Measure B (see previous posts) and I will be your voice for accountable and trustworthy government."
I'm sure Babadalir thought his telling people to vote only for him, despite there being two seats open, was a good campaign strategy. To me, it comes off as intentionally misleading voters. If he had taken the time to think about what he's posting and maybe run it by one of his advisors, maybe he wouldn't have said that.
It will be hard to measure the impact social media makes on this year's local races. It's not hard to see, however, the siren call of constant connection that social media provides. I just hope that voters don't fill out their ballots based on who has the best selfie.