It is time to reconsider how social media is changing the playing field in politics and this talk will focus on answering this question in the context of 2014 presidential elections in Romania.
Research published in the journal Nature showed that important real world behaviors like voting can be influenced by online social networks in an experiment that included 61-million people on Facebook during the U.S. elections in 2010. The authors estimate that Facebook's "get out the vote" message yielded more than 300,000 more voters at the polls in 2010. If social media can incentive political participation does it as well have the ability to change the outcome of an election?
But is this behavior also shared by European users? In 2014 several elections were held across European countries. We look at the ways the online social platforms were used as spaces of political communication by both politicians and the civil society. Our main curiosity was to see if the pattern noticed in the U.S population would be replicated in different European countries.
Keeping a close eye on the November 2014 Romanian presidential elections we noticed something unexpected. A strong social media campaign led by young, urban voters sprang up across several social platforms raising awareness of the importance of going out to vote. And this is where the networks of social media played an exponential effect. Hashtags such as #yeslavot, #alegeri2014 and #diasporavoteaza became the most popular hashtags on Twitter in the days leading up to the election.
The final result came as a surprise to most political analysts and civic activists alike, so everyone started looking to understand what triggered the dramatic turnaround in popular support for the two candidates.
What stroke the civic cord of the Romanian social media users? And learning from the Romanian example has the election playing field changed so that future political campaigns have to change accordingly? Can elections be won over with social media?