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Facebook ads educate voters

November 9, 2006

The votes are in after months of campaigning. Governor Jim Doyle was reelected, Congressman Ron Kind returns to serve District 3, and incumbent Kitty Rhoades beat out recent UW-River Falls graduate Dan Gorman in the State Assembly race.

As an effort to reach out to young voters, these and other political candidates and college students turned to Facebook for the 2006 general election, promoting discussion and encouraging knowledge of the candidates and issues.

Political groups, candidate profiles and advertisements had a strong presence on the online social network by students, campaign managers and organizations.

Many students said it was a successful effort and effective way to reach out to students in future elections.

“The political ads and groups on Facebook encouraged me to look up information for candidates rather than voting for a party,” junior Mekha El-ShadiJones said.

Students were able to join groups regarding issues and candidates to show their support or opposition.

“The groups were a good way to get students together,” El-ShadiJones said. “Students may not have looked at flyers on walls or read ads on Facebook. The groups helped students formulate ideas away from their parents and communities.”

El-ShadiJones said he joined a group pertaining to the Wisconsin marriage amendment.

“I received an invitation to join the group,” El-ShadiJones said. “I didn’t know anything about the amendment prior to receiving the invitation, but after I read the description about it, I joined the group.”

El-ShadiJones also joined a group opposing Proposition 2, a proposal regarding affirmative action on the ballot in his hometown of Detroit.

He said by joining the group he was able to have a conversation with another UW-River Falls student group about the issue.

“The group encouraged a political discussion with another student here about the proposition,” El-ShadiJones said. “It was a unique experience.”

Senior Dave Benner said he was a member of several Minnesota candidate groups.

“It’s a good way to show your support for candidates,” Benner said.

In addition to political groups, many candidates also had profiles on Facebook. The site allowed candidates to create profiles as part of the Elections 2006 feature.

Brad Smith, who serves as U.S. Rep. Ron Kind’s congressional district field director, said the staff chose to have Kind’s profile on Facebook because it was a good way to reach out to young voters.

“Ron’s staff is a fairly young staff,” Smith said. “The staff thought Facebook was the way to reach out to our demographic.”

Though there is no way to see the number of hits to the page, the profiles increased the amount of student activity with candidates, Smith said.

“It has yet to be seen if it will increase students’ votes, but it allowed students to show their support,” he said.

“Almost every candidate had one,” Benner said. “I think it was a good way to reach out to young people. Students were more apt to learn about candidates since they had more exposure to them.”

Benner said while the candidate profiles on Facebook informed students about the candidates, he does not think it is the best resource to find out where candidates stand on specific issues.

“Facebook is a good outlet for candidates, but the most information about where candidates stood was on their personal Web sites,” Benner said. “Although [Facebook] was not my favorite resource, it served as a link to candidates for our age group.”

Among other attempts to educate students about candidates was the Young Americans Fund, a congressional watchdog group run by college students.

Derek Schlickeisen, a sophomore at Middlebury College in Vermont, created the organization in July.

“I am concerned about the direction of our country,” Schlickeisen said. “[Our ads focused] on advertising the records of the best and worst of Congress.”

Through advertisements, the organization educated young voters about congressional candidates and their records on issues that matter most to young voters. The organization also rated the candidates on a scorecard based on their commitment to young Americans.

“We were not focused on getting anyone elected or defeated,” Schlickeisen said. “We were focused on simply informing voters.”

The group ran the advertisements, appearing on the left-hand side of all Facebook pages, until the third week of October, reaching 2 million college students nationwide.