Has social networking changed the election?

As the general election campaign draws to a close, Simon Brew wonders if social networking services had quite the impact we were expecting…

Were the comments of Gillian Duffy genuinely bigoted, for instance? Not one rolling TV news channel even seemed bothered by the question in its rush to play back the clip of Gordon Brown's words being spoken into a microphone he didn't realise was on. Did this make Gordon Brown look more human? Did it reflect badly on him? Things like that, and different angles to the story, were actively being discussed, and lots and lots of people were joining in. People, you'd argue, who hadn't been as engaged in previous elections.

Granted, as with all open and unmoderated discussion forums, the breadth of opinions brought in the measured as well as the unconstructive. Yet given the hours of television coverage devoted to that one issue, it seemed to not make a single dent in the opinion polls. Gauging opinion across Twitter, that could have foretold, perhaps.

The People Are Revolting

Because ultimately, here's what happened in this election. Social networking tools weren't used particularly successfully by politicians looking to get their point across. Instead, they were adopted by the electorate at large, who instead managed to make themselves far more heard than otherwise they may have been.

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Furthermore, there's a suggestion that through a combination of the leadership debates and the conversations that have subsequently taken hold across the likes of Twitter, that more younger votes have been energised to register. Facebook groups surrounding the election and specific issues have sprung up, again inspiring political debate.

For voters previously disenfranchised by the brick wall of the media refusing to let them have their say, this has been a pivotal election, and one that as clichd as it sounds has changed how future campaigns will be shaped.

It's also proven that parties have less control over their messages, and that instead, the political news agenda for a given day can no longer be controlled to the level it once was from within an office in London.

Of course, this could all count for nothing come the time to go into the polling booth and cast a vote. It could all be that the traditional dividing lines between the parties and their supporters are re-established come the moment when a cross needs to be marked on a ballot paper. But even if that happens, this election has played out very difficulty to those before it, and technology social networking in particular has had a sizeable role to play.

Power may just, however temporarily, have been returned to the people

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