Amidst the pundits and the graphics and the touch screen monitors and the iPads strapped to the arms of The Daily Show's John Oliver, probably the most watched network on election night 2012 was on, for most people anyway, a substantially smaller screen. Just as social networking drove us all crazy leading up to the election, it became a massive tool of communications the day the election ended.
Whether it was plethora of Instagram images of individual ballots, YouTube videos of ballot machine problems or Facebook and Twitter posts from polling places and as the votes were counted, millions of Americans used the most popular social networks to announce their intentions and follow the vote. No matter how you feel about these various forms of new media, their relevance continues to grow and that was underscored on Tuesday.
Much like victims of last week's Hurricane Sandy, some of the first images of election day came from people's cell phones, shared via services like Instagram. Of course, as some warned, photos at the polling booth are actually illegal in most states, but that didn't seem to deter people from sharing their choices.
An even more striking image was captured via video and posted to YouTube. A voter in Pennsylvania recorded how a voting machine chose Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan every time the person tried to choose Barack Obama and Joe Biden. The startling video immediately went viral and was picked up by media outlets across the country. As of the time of writing this, the video had more than two million views.
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Then there are the millions of tweets and Facebook posts that flooded those networks throughout the day and as election results rolled in. From reports on the lines at polling places right up to the concession and acceptance speeches. As Politico reported, a study revealed that nearly a quarter of registered voters posted on Facebook and Twitter who they voted for.
Consider that barely eight years ago, none of these social media sites existed. Facebook launched in 2004 followed by YouTube in 2005, Twitter in 2006 and Instagram just two years ago. These sites have gone from nerdy novelties to genuinely powerful tools of communication in a digital age.
And even more remarkable is that a substantial percentage of these networks were accessed by mobile devices. The most popular smart phones were invented just five years ago and now they are driving conversation and allowing users to do things like report potential ballot machine problems in the moment.
Most of these services existed in the last presidential election, but they were still in their infancy and the smart phones and networks that serve them were slow and cumbersome. As a result, 2012 will likely be known as the first election of social media. As the numbers of users accessing them grows, they will become even more relevant and important during all sorts of events, particularly elections.