[Viewpoint] The Twitter electoral factorThe winner of the April 27 by-elections is not the Democratic Party. Twitter is the real victor. There are two reasons.
First, Twitter created the DP’s victories. Second, there is no guarantee that the DP will win next election, but Twitter will still be a decisive factor then.
Author Lee Oisoo has the largest number of Twitter followers in Korea with more than 730,000.
On the eve of the elections, he held a campaign on his Twitter page. The catchphrase was “Voting will bring you blessings.” He sent messages such as “Let’s prove you are a true democratic citizen.”
He spent all night posting messages on Twitter and then went to the polling station early in the morning with his wife to vote and posted a photo showing him in front of the polling station.
Was his action effective and by how much? There is no way to measure it, but it is possible to make an estimate.
First, we must keep in mind the characteristics of the medium he used.
Twitter is the darling of social networking services in the IT era. Among SNS, Twitter is seen as the fastest medium of communication with the widest direct influence. In Korea, it is very popular.
Twitter has overwhelming dominance. It proved influential during the June 2 local elections last year. Since then, Twitter’s power has grown. In January 2010, there were 250,000 Twitter users. Early this year, there were more than 2.5 million. The number grew 10-fold in just one year. During the same period, the number of messages posted surged from 1.9 million to 680 million, or 36 times.
In some ways, Twitter also functions like a media outlet. While Facebook could be compared to talking with friends in a room, Twitter is like shouting on an open plaza. When someone with a loud voice, like Lee Oisoo, shouts, more than 700,000 people listen simultaneously.
And “re-tweeting” is the most important factor behind Twitter’s power. Those who heard Lee’s message will re-tweet it to their followers. A Korean Twitter user has an average of 70 followers. A simple calculation shows that 490 million people will receive the same message with just one re-tweet.
When the re-tweeted message is sent again, the number of recipients it grows exponentially.
The most re-tweeted messages are those from prominent users. At the end of the day, Lee’s message urging voters to cast ballots was probably seen by nearly all the Twitter users in the country.
Facing this giant, what did the Grand National Party do wrong?
On the eve of the elections, a provocative comment was posted on Lee’s Twitter page. It said “What are you doing?!” and was made in response to a question by a follower who had seen a photo of Lee and Ohm Ki-young, the GNP candidate for Gangwon governor, on Lee’s Twitter account and asked “I was wondering if you are supporting him formally?”
Lee responded that “Candidates from both parties have visited me. But a follower keeps posting a photo that I took with a particular candidate. What is your intention?”
Lee was complaining that he is not supporting Ohm, but his camp was trying to use his Twitter account in the campaign by posting the photo repeatedly.
The Grand National Party was shooting itself in the foot. Because of Twitter, many young voters cast ballots and the GNP lost, but the real reason for its defeat is that the party failed to understand Twitter.
But is Twitter on the side of the DP? Not necessarily.
It is often supportive of an opposition party. Because it is a means of communication, it emphasizes openness and sharing. It rejects and criticizes authoritarianism and monopolies. Those with power often become subjects of criticism.
But technology is politically neutral.
Not all Twitter users support the DP’s ideology.
In the United States, the Republican Party, which lost to Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential election, more actively used social networking services during the mid-term elections last year and gained control of the House of Representatives. In next year’s election, SNS will be a more decisive factor.
And Korea is no exception.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Oh Byung-sang