This must be my week to blog about Google+, so I’m rounding it out with a final post that at least somewhat fits my area of expertise. Whether Google+ defeats Facebook in the long run or whether it remains a network for early adopters with some cool features, it’s still garnering significant numbers. And this could cut into one of the emerging roles that Facebook (and other social networking sites) has adopted: political facilitator.
As has been enumerated many times, social media – and Facebook in particular – emerged in 2008 as a new space for politicians to reach the public. And with Obama’s success, politicians from both parties jumped on the social media bandwagon. In the current political season, social media is already part of the process – from Obama’s Facebook town hall to this week’s GOP Twitter debate. Politicians all have their Facebook pages to encourage interaction. Further, research has suggested that Facebook has provided an interactive community for youth to discuss politics – and using Facebook for political purposes leads to greater political participation in traditional contexts.
So what does it mean if a substantial portion of their audience has moved elsewhere? Especially since the audience is the early adopters – who may not be political geeks – but who often are at the forefront of information and technology. The easy answer is the politicians simply move to Google+ also, but is it really that simple? I think not. The Twitter debate this week supports my doubts – the politicians may have been on Twitter, but that debate did not utilize the medium itself at all. Instead, it simply provided another place for politicians to provide even shorter soundbites of their talking points, rather than reply to the question or each other. And Google+ is a different social networking site – its circles may make it less susceptible to the viral trends that pervade other media. So it may be harder for politicians to build an interactive following that really takes advantage of the “social” aspect of these media that I think have set social media apart.
Now, I’m actually someone who is excited about Google+ and its circles. But it is disheartening to think that some of the advances that Facebook has allowed for political engagement may be lost or diluted with the rise of Google+. For now, it looks like politicians haven’t begun the move to Google+. I don’t know what I want to happen – but I hope that social media continues to encourage a new form of political engagement and expression that invites more people into the political fold.