Election Update: The Cyberwar for Votes

“A great science fiction detective story” – Ian Watson, author of The Universal Machine
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Election Countdown: 211 days

Yesterday The Economist posted a brief report on some research carried out at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México regarding the use of Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube by the presidential candidates in the current election.  The original research results can be found here.

When not engaging in lame rhetorical flourishes (“Do Mexicans give a flying fajita what their representatives tweet or post to Facebook?”), the author does neatly sum up the study’s findings. I have left the links in this excerpt intact, but they are The Economist’s links, not mine:

On Facebook, Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party has the most subscribers and attracts the most chatter.  Josefina Vázquez Mota, who is likely to represent the ruling National Action Party (PAN), is close behindAndrés Manuel López Obrador, who will carry the flag for the left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution, seems to be friendless by comparison.

On YouTube, the tables are turned. Perhaps because he is the most charismatic speaker, Mr López Obrador has many more videos than any other candidate. Despite this, Mr Peña Nieto has managed to recruit more subscribers. On Twitter, it’s a different story again: Santiago Creel, who has only a slim chance of beating Ms Vázquez Mota to the PAN’s nomination, is by far the most prolific tweeter, sending out updates every few hours. Mr López Obrador seems to tweet only every few days, but has still managed to amass more followers than any of the rest.

Of course Mexico is simply experiencing a change that either has played out or will play out in every democratic country: the introduction of a new technology, the internet, into the electoral process.  As The Economist rightly points out, the landscape in cyberspace was very different only six years ago when the hotly contexted last election took place:

It’s hard to imagine now, but at the time of the 2006 election Facebook was not yet open to the general public, YouTube was barely a year old and Twitter hadn’t even launched.

By the official results (without getting into the debate about whether they were accurate or not), Andrés Manuel López Obrador lost that election to Felipe Calderón by only 0.58% of the vote.  Could the presence of internet platforms like Twitter and YouTube have changed that extremely narrow margin enough to effect the result?  Who will it favour this time around? And will it make a real difference?

In the past both radio and television have taken their turns at changing the ways our politicians are elected.  In the election that brought President Obama to power, his internet campaign was credited with making a large, potentially even decisive, contribution to his success (see, for instance, Propelled by Internet, Barack Obama Wins Presidency and How Obama’s Internet Campaign Changed Politics).

That being said, the introduction of a new technology will not make identical changes to the electoral systems of different countries.  Different technologies have a tendency to favour different candidates and different political styles, as Richard Nixon learned to his regret when he did battle with John F. Kennedy on television.

It will be interesting to see how the use of this particular technology plays out with these particular candidates.

If López Obrador is reallythe most telegenic, as The Economist argues, will YouTube give him a genuine advantage — one that actually translates into votes — or merely the appearance of a successful campaign that will disappoint his supporters in the end?

Enrique Peña Nieto may have the most Facebook friends, but as most of us know from personal experience, having friends on Facebook does not always translate into having friends IRL (“in real life”).

Whatever effect the internet has in this election, one thing is very likely: it will set the template for how candidates run campaigns in the future, both in terms of what to do and what to avoid doing.  I’ll be interested to see the analysis of this aspect of the election once July 1, 2012 passes into history and the dust settles enough of that we can begin to see, in retrospect, what happened and why.

This entry was posted in Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Election 2006, Election 2012, Enrique Peña Nieto, Facebook, Felipe Calderon, Josefina Vázquez Mota, Santiago Creel, Twitter, YouTube. Bookmark the permalink.

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