So What Impact did Social Media Really Have on the UK Elections?

Some people were calling it the first social media election. Others said young people would come out in droves because of Facebook and Twitter campaigns. And still others said the use of media in the campaigns would change the face of politics as we know it. Now that the UK election day has come and gone, what can we say about the impact that social media had on registering, informing, and mobilizing voters?

Facebook: a practical use of social media

Shortly after the election campaign began, the UK Electoral Commission joined forces with Facebook in providing a central area where UK citizens could gather online and receive news about the election. The Democracy UK on Facebook page has just under 210,000 likes at the time of writing, and is still being updated with post-election coverage.

This page was even used to mobilize new voters, featuring a tab that linked to online voter registration forms prior to election day. According to Facebook’s blog, this “get out the vote” effort got thousands of voters registered who otherwise would not have gone to the polls.

The information and mobilization power of Democracy UK on Facebook shows that it is possible to use social networks to reach out to citizens. There are debates as to whether the “Facebook voters” had any impact on the actual election results in the end, but one thing’s for sure: some people are now more politically motivated than before, and it’s thanks to Facebook. This initiative might not have rocked the boat, but it made some waves.

Twitter: feeling the pulse of the nation – or at least a slice of it

According to CNN, #ge2010, #ukvote and #ukelection were among the most trending topics worldwide on Twitter immediately after the polls closed. As you’d expect, a lot of what was being said in the Twitter-sphere was partisan bickering and in-fighting among political elites, which may not exactly represent the wider citizenry.

However, Twitter was a useful tool on election day in a surprising way: it was used to voice complaints about the lack of access to polling booths in some constituencies. Financial Times reports that high turnout was not only recorded through Twitter’s #ukvote tag, but it was possibly also the culprit of a large amount of Twitter users claiming they were denied access to the polls.

Some Twitter users reported being turned away due to an unexpected high volume of voters in certain areas such as Sheffield. And because many Tweeted their location, this may be used to verify claims that otherwise would have no backing. While Twitter’s importance at election time has been discussed in terms of sharing political information and following what the leaders are saying, this new use – as a “witnessing” tool for possibly detecting voters being denied their rights – might impact future elections.

Youtube: bringing netizens into the debate

Youtube partnered with Facebook to bring UK citizens the first ever Digital Debate – a channel featuring the three contending leaders answering questions that were crowdsourced from citizens. The channel has under 400,000 views which doesn’t necessarily make it a viral hit, but it hints toward the possibility of engaging younger voters online. You can read more about how the Digital Debate worked here.

Asking citizens to vote on the questions to ask politicians is a great way to get people interested in the political debates that often go unnoticed by all but the most politically-inclined. And using Youtube as a forum for this type of debate crowdsourcing appeals to the younger electorate – that elusive demographic whose turnout rates are dropping by the year. Although this, like the Facebook page, might not have completely revolutionized the UK elections this year, as a first step it offers the promise of informing and engaging Internet users in future elections as it becomes more fine-tunes.