TOPICS > Politics

An Election on Facebook: Old Media Enters New World

July 12, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Do "likes" on Facebook translate to votes? Howard Kurtz and Lauren Ashburn of examine that issue with Ray Suarez and also explore why traditional news outlets are partnering with social media sites this election year.

JEFFREY BROWN: And now back to this country and to presidential politics.

Ray Suarez returns with that.

RAY SUAREZ: And we continue our regular look at the campaign as it plays out in social media and on the Web.

For that, we’re joined again by two journalists from the new website, Daily Download. Lauren Ashburn is the site’s editor in chief. Howard Kurtz is Newsweek’s Washington bureau chief and host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”

And this week, both Mitt Romney and Vice President Biden spoke to the NAACP. Did it garner much traffic in the online world?

LAUREN ASHBURN, Absolutely. Our traffic, Twitter and Facebook feeds were lighting up.

HOWARD KURTZ, Newsweek/CNN: Particularly, Ray, after Mitt Romney was booed yesterday at the NAACP convention.

The initial wave was sort of one of mockery. And one MSNBC host — this was widely re-tweeted or sent out — said that he was deliberately booed because he wanted to appeal to white racists. But then there was sort of a counterwave of conservatives defending Romney And taking issue with the somewhat discourteous behavior of some of the NAACP members, who after all had invited the presidential candidate.

RAY SUAREZ: This was all civilians trafficking this image on their own, or were the campaigns also interested in getting this out there?

LAUREN ASHBURN: The majority was civilians, I think, very upset with what happened.

HOWARD KURTZ: But some journalists and activists who also tend to join these online conversations.

RAY SUAREZ: Now, this week also, Facebook very handy for finding out how your high school girlfriend has aged…


RAY SUAREZ: … snarky aphorisms and vacation pictures, they’re teaming up with conventions. Why would political conventions want to partner up with Facebook and vice versa?

LAUREN ASHBURN: Well, I think that television networks and other organizations are interested in partnering with Facebook to cover conventions because it brings a younger demographic, number one, and number two, that it lends some…

HOWARD KURTZ: The hipness factor is what you’re looking for.

LAUREN ASHBURN: Hipness, yes, that’s it, to organizations that may be seen by the younger demographic as not with it.

HOWARD KURTZ: And that’s why we have news this week that Facebook is partnering with CNN in a number of ways for this political campaign, which obviously CNN hopes will drive traffic online and create its social — augment its social media presence.

And you have a…


LAUREN ASHBURN: Yes. I have a graphic right here showing the campaign partnership. And there are several different components to the partnership.

The first is what’s called an I’m Voting app for your phone and also for your laptop, where you can put the information in specifically of who you are voting for on your Facebook page.

HOWARD KURTZ: You’re essentially announcing to your friends that you’re with so and so and maybe spreading the word on behalf of that candidate, because Facebook is a social place.

And as well, there is a survey state by state also of demographics around key events on the political calendar, conventions, Election Day, debates. And Facebook also is measuring what it calls buzz, which is another way to saying aggregating the amount of discussion around Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and whoever Romney ends up picking as his running mate.

RAY SUAREZ: A lot of old media, legacy media, is partnering with online and social networks.

What do they get out of it? Because a lot of these places have their own Web presence. Aren’t they picking their own pockets by trying to also be present and get their content distributed on Facebook?

LAUREN ASHBURN: I think that the Internet, the more you share on the Internet, the more robust your site becomes. So I think that by partnering with these organizations, for the Internet, it’s a very common practice, maybe for the older organizations, not so much.

HOWARD KURTZ: And we see that with the NewsHour having its own partnership with MTV in an attempt to reach younger people, who do spend a lot of time hanging out online.

RAY SUAREZ: Now, have there been any measurable effects? OK, everybody’s doing all this stuff.


RAY SUAREZ: Have the presidential campaigns noticed that they’re getting noticed because of this new way of announcing themselves?


I spoke to the CEO of VoterTide, an organization that tracks social media. And they have seen a huge Facebook surge over health care. If you looked here at the graphic that I’m putting up here from them, on June 28…

HOWARD KURTZ: Which of course is the day of the Supreme Court ruling on the president’s health care plan, upholding its constitutionality.

LAUREN ASHBURN: … we had a Facebook surge in likes for Mitt Romney, almost up to 40,000. So you had a significant like factor, likability factor, because he tweeted out information about health care and other people Facebook-posted it.

HOWARD KURTZ: Obviously, conservatives, Republicans, Romney fans energized by the Supreme Court upholding a law that they frankly despise.

And if you go to the next graphic that we have, President Obama the next day after the high court ruling got a surge in not Facebook likes, but in Facebook shares, because his speech to the country claiming victory over the Supreme Court ruling included — they put some music to it and some nice graphics. And that was shared, what, 40,000 times on Facebook?

LAUREN ASHBURN: Yes, more than 40,000 times.

And that’s just one video. And if you look at this chart, all of these other points here are the release of different videos. So this one particular issue was able to garner that many shares.

RAY SUAREZ: Now, if you go on Facebook, if you have any number of friends, you’re constantly being urged to like things.


RAY SUAREZ: And it’s done with the stroke of a key. It doesn’t ask for much from you as far as commitment. Can it translate into something real, like campaign contributions or votes?

HOWARD KURTZ: I think Facebook has become a galvanizing force, certainly in the media world. And I think it wants to become a galvanizing force in the political campaigns.

Facebook has had other partnerships with ABC, with Politico. And so, with so with so many people trusting their friends and liking things online and making statements and kind of living their lives online, I think Facebook is becoming a real force, in part because it has such great reach, so many people now, some hundreds of millions.

LAUREN ASHBURN: And Facebook — Facebook is really now the grassroots campaign of this election. People now are going to Facebook to see what their friends are doing and how they can join in.

And at the end of the videos, for example, that Barack Obama posted is always a, ‘if you click here, you can donate to the campaign.’

HOWARD KURTZ: So it can be a fund-raising tool as well.

RAY SUAREZ: But liking something is done so easily, that I’m not sure it really ends up mattering that much. There you are. You’re looking down your column of little missives and things that have been dropped in your lap by your list of friends.

HOWARD KURTZ: But, remember, Ray, that you are broadcasting not only the fact that you like something, but it could be a video that could be shared, it could be an argument that was made online.

You’re broadcasting this — or narrow-casting, I guess I should say, to all of your friends. And although we in the media prefer that people get their information from us, people like getting it from people they trust.

RAY SUAREZ: Maybe that’s it.


RAY SUAREZ: I want them to get it from us.


RAY SUAREZ: Lauren Ashburn, Howard Kurtz, good to talk to you.

HOWARD KURTZ: Same here.