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Facebook and the Rise of Social Media in Election Cycles

Mitch Teich
Facebook's Crystal Patterson standing next to the Conversation Timeline.

The Democratic candidates for president have long moved on from Wisconsin since debate at UW-Milwaukee. But while they – and the Republican candidates - vie for votes in Nevada and South Carolina, the campaign lives on - nationally, in the news and on social media.

In fact, social media is increasingly where people turn to find news, and to try to affect change. We in the traditional media recognize this, and so do companies like Facebook. Facebook was a co-sponsor of the UWM debate, convening a group that contributed questions to Clinton and Sanders.

“All the candidates are using Facebook to communicate their policy positions and ideas to the public. The public is certainly talking back to the candidates on the platform,” says Crystal Patterson, the government and politics outreach manager for Facebook. “People really are getting political news not just from the candidates themselves but from other news sources on Facebook. People get 40% of their news on Facebook.”

Facebook also sponsored the media lounge at UWM, in which large touch-screen televisions charted how Americans are using the platform during this election cycle. It shows the ebb and flow of social media conversations using the words most frequently used at different times of the election cycle.

These social media conversations can often turn ugly, but Patterson says any online interactions of any kind can be good for a candidate.

“Even if the conversation isn’t necessarily positive about a candidate, they’re certainly still driving the conversation,” says Patterson. “If you’re a candidate and you’re trying to get earned media and attention on what you’re trying to talk about, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”