I was asked this week if I thought the UK General Election was the first ‘social media election’ and the short answer is – yes, it was.
Although derided in some quarters for being ‘babyish’, I think social media increased interest and public participation in the 2010 general election in way that has never been seen before.
This was the first general election since the launch of Twitter and every major news outlet, party or tech-savvy MP made use of micro-blogging (in the aftermath, the former foreign secretary David Miliband asked supporters to retweet a message supporting his bid for leadership of the defeated Labour party).
For the first time, if the public learned of key developments (such as problems at polling stations, Gordon Brown calling an elderly voter ‘bigotted’ and 24-hour news broadcasters suffering a meltdown) on Twitter or Facebook they could then see for themselves immediately afterwards on YouTube.
The parties also saw the value of social media with the Conservatives buying advertising space on YouTube to coincide with polling day. Although the experience does not seem to have converted them to digital evangelists as reports suggest they are now leaning towards that fuddery old medium, email.
The main party leaders lined up for three TV showdowns for the first time in British electoral history and commanded audiences of up to seven million (admittedly many were hoping to see a fatal gaffe or a punch up). It was during these that, in the UK, the hashtag ‘leadersdebate’ ran at up to 51.2 per second.
The public was passing instant judgment on those grovelling for their support.
Many major news outlets were smart enough to cash in on the new give-and-take exchange that the new media provided and set up live blogs (The Guardian’s blogger Andrew Sparrow estimated that he wrote up to 14,000 words a day).
It’s debatable whether it was outlets like Twitter swayed the vote for any particular party, but it certainly gave voters more of a chance to express their opinion and have more of a stake.
What do you think?