Speaking at a forum at Howard University on the effective use of social media, political communications experts urged college students and other young voters to transform their Facebook and Twitter contacts into powerful political networks in advance of the 2012 elections.
The non-partisan forum on Wednesday was convened by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies Media and Technology Institute, in partnership with Howard’s School of Communications, NAACP, National Action Network, Voto Latino, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the Hip Hop Caucus, IMPACT, Politic365 and BET Networks. “African Americans in particular are over-represented on sites like Twitter,” said political commentator Jamal Simmons. “Transforming the contacts to good works can make a significant impact if this year is anything like the last election when African Americans played a critical role in getting this president elected.”
Social media can be effective tools for anyone, according to conservative commentator Lenny McAllister. He cited the success that the Tea Party has had with social media, saying, “These are not 22-year-old conservatives that are using Facebook and Twitter. These are your grandparents!”
“As the 2012 election season gets underway, this is the first in a series of events by the Joint Center to highlight the role of social media in civic engagement,” said Dr. Nicol Turner-Lee, Vice President and Director of the Joint Center Media and Technology Institute. “We want to energize African Americans and other people of color, especially young and potential voters who are comfortable with the technology and can lead the way to broader adoption.”
Stefanie Brown, National Field Director of the NAACP, urged students in the audience to connect with those outside their immediate friendship circles and comfort zones “so that you are just not following people who think like you.”
Adam Sharp, Twitter’s Manager for Government and Politics, said social media enthusiasts must recognize the limitations. “Tools like Twitter are not a replacement for sources of quality information. They are better used as a way for a person to connect the dots.”
Jessica Reeves of Voto Latino agreed, saying Twitter and Facebook are tools for “getting attention to things we’re working on.” She said they were effective when various groups were trying to build support for the Dream Act, which would have allowed permanent residency status for some young immigrants.
“We have to get over this apathy hurdle—this enthusiasm gap,” warned Jeneba Ghatt of The Ghatt Law Group and political blogger. Voting outcomes have a direct bearing on people’s everyday lives, and “It’s about getting people to realize the impact it has on them.”
“As long as young people feel connected to these tools, they will take action,” added Marie “Free” Wright, former co-host of BET’s “106 & Park” and current co-host of the nationally syndicated “In the Den with Big Tigger” morning show, which airs locally on CBS-owned WPGC, 95.5 FM.
The forum was held at Howard as these groups reach out to 18- to 24-year-old registered and potential new voters.
The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies is one of the nation’s leading research and public policy institutions and the only one whose work focuses primarily on issues of particular concern to African Americans and other people of color. To learn more, please visit www.jointcenter.org.