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December 30, 2011
Don't Underestimate the Power of Social Networking
Digg is a social networking website where people share online content with others:
If you examine the share icon on most websites, you will discover that Digg is one of hundreds of options available. Facebook and Twitter are two others, but Digg keeps a running tally of the number of times articles and other things posted on the Internet are "digged" by readers and then publishes the results on its website by category. Today, in the "Top News in Politics" category, the top five postings are:
By simply clicking on the title, Digg enthusiasts are able to see what others are saying, and if they are part of the Digg community, they can add their two cents worth. For example, the first item listed deals with a recent book that claims President Nixon was gay. What Nixon was or wasn't isn't the issue. The point is that the item listed, or more precisely the item's title, is a launching pad for the Digg community to sound off on an issue, and what they have to say is revealing because the comments provide a glimpse into what people are thinking and saying.
Digg readers had these things to say, among others, about the Nixon piece, and the comments are verbatim:
"Bleh. I call bulls**t. This mudslinging is no better than the conspiracy trash pushed by various other mouth-breathing dolts."
"Look up bohemian grove! Its not bulls**t!"
"Everyone is gay except gay people. They are the straight ones."
"I'm a lesbian trapped in a man's body."
"In the future, this will be a nonissue regardless of who is being discussed. Lol"
"Such an intelligent comment. I mean that seriously. I await the day when what you said comes to fruition."
"Move along, folks, this isn't news. It's no surprise because all Republicans are in the closet"
"of course they are, someone said it about a republican so it has now got to be twisted around to be about democrats. just like everything else. you guys are so predictable."
If you want to know what people are thinking and saying about the "gay rights" issue at this moment, Digg is a great place to start, but it's not the only place you can go to put your finger on the pulse of the public. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube provide similar information, but they don't publish their results the way Digg does.
I became aware of the power of social networking while I was writing a book titled Falsely Accused. It's about a young woman named Cyndi Marchbanks who was charged with double homicide in Anderson County South Carolina after she shot a pregnant woman who broke into her home to beat her to a pulp or worse. The intruder died instantly, but the baby was delivered postmortem and kept alive on machines for 40 days before she died.
The facts of the case reveal that no law was broken. It was a clear-cut case of self defense. The facts also show that the investigation was shoddy. From start to finish, detectives spent less than two hours investigating, and the prosecutor was running for re-election in a heated campaign. This was a high-profile case that was tailor-made for a politician who needed to show the community that she was tough on crime even though no crime was committed.
People living in Anderson never saw the facts. All they knew was what they read, heard, or saw on television. In their eyes, Marchbanks was a hideous monster, the cold-blooded killer of a mother and her unborn child because that's the way she was portrayed. To this day, you can read about the case on topix.net, another social networking website. The last comment on topix.net was posted in March 2011, four and a half years after the shooting. To date, 971 comments about the case have been posted on topix.net and most of them are off-the-wall, but we live in a world where facts don't matter. Those comments, as ludicrous as most of them are, have more influence on people's thinking than the facts ever will.
A jury acquitted Marchbanks in near record time because the evidence for self defense was overwhelming, but to this day she remains a cold-blooded killer in the minds of most people living in Anderson thanks to social networking.
Don't underestimate the power of social networking. We live in a world where perception is everything, and people who understand the power of social networking are using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Digg, and other social networking websites to shape perceptions and win others over to their points of view regardless of the facts.
Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other social networking websites were used as tools to promote the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street. They were used in 2008 by candidate Obama to win the hearts and minds of voters, and he's using them again this go-around for everything from fundraising to promoting his positions on issues.
Today, President Obama is ranked number 7 on Twitter's list of "The Top 100 Most Followed on Twitter" with 11,677,598 followers. Those ahead of him on the list include Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Kim Kardashian, Britney Spears, and Shakira. Those closely trailing Obama include Rihanna, Taylor Swift, and Ashton Kutcher. Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and the other GOP hopefuls aren't even listed in Twitter's Top 100. For comparison purposes, Bill Gates is ranked 42nd on the list with 4,917,575 followers, and the New York Times is ranked 59th with 4,198,774 followers.
When the votes are tallied in November 2012, the winner of the presidential campaign is likely to be the candidate that understood and used social networking most effectively. At this time, the Republican field has a long way to go before they catch up with Obama. This may seem to be a trivial point, but as I said, don't underestimate the power of social networking.
Neil Snyder is a chaired professor emeritus at the University of Virginia. His blog, SnyderTalk.com, is posted daily. His latest book is titled If You Voted for Obama in 2008 to Prove You're Not a Racist, You Need to Vote for Someone Else in 2012 to Prove You're Not an Idiot.
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