Professor, Students Say Facebook, YouTube Content Could Help Engage Young Voters Or May Lead To Groupthink

This story was written by Ashley Bennett, Technician
The rise in political participation through the Internet on Web sites, such as Facebook, and YouTube has made political participation much easier, according to Steven Greene, associate political science professor.

"The fact that there is something on YouTube and it just takes a mouse click and billions of people can see this little video makes it so easy to really engage in what's going on politically," Greene said.

Although Greene said whether or not using the Internet for political participation has an effect on voter turnout in the general election is "hard to say", he does feel that the Internet is a reason for getting people involved.

"Given what we know about Obama's support among young people and the use of the Internet and special things like social networking sites among young people, it would certainly be a reasonable explanation that the Internet was helping with voter turnout among young people," Greene said. "I don't think it's very dramatic, but there's probably something to it."

Mike Marsh, a senior in aerospace engineering, disagrees with Greene's prediction.

"It just seems like the trend [is] to say you are voting for someone because your friends are supporting them," Marsh said. "I really don't know if it will translate to the actual voter turnout of college students."

On the other hand, Josh Schroder, a junior in business management, feels Internet political participation will definitely affect the college student voter turnout.

"I think it will affect college voting more because not many older people are on Facebook," Schroder said. "I've also heard a lot more talk amongst my friends saying who they are voting for."

Schroder said he has been very involved with Internet participation by watching all of the debates and speeches made by Mike Huckabee and several other candidates online, reading political news daily and joining Facebook groups that support his favorite candidate.

Schroder said he chooses to join the Facebook groups in particular in order to "express views, help other people see the candidate's views and spark interest in the election."

"[Facebook users] can also find out who they like or don't like, and if they agree or disagree with my views they can send me a message and talk about it," Schroder said.

Marsh said the use of the Internet for civic participation can be good because it allows for instant access to recent information, but there can also be negative consequences.

"It may lead to Groupthink or conformity, where everyone just follows what everyone else thinks and doesn't make their own decision," Marsh said. "Especially with groups like Facebook because people add these groups just because their friends [did], and when you ask them in person who they support they don't know."

Whether or not students use Internet to become more politically involved, Greene said he certainly sees a rise in political interest, especially for the primary elections, which should carry over into the general election.

"Even though our democratic side has certainly been more interesting and certainly gotten more coverage, the fact that we had both parties go into this not knowing or having any idea who would emerge as the nominees, and now having a number of real possibilities from each side intuitively makes for a much more interesting primary season," Greene said.

Schroder agrees that the Internet has helped create a rise in interest for the elections, but it is mostly the candidates that have created this interest.

"I think it is more because of the candidates and that there is a possibility of a lot of firsts, such as the first black [president] or first woman [president]," Schrodersaid.
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