In August 2012, President Barack Obama took part in a reddit “Ask me Anything,” making him the first sitting President to take advantage of the site’s popular Q&A feature.
“This is an example of how technology and the internet can empower the sorts of conversations that strengthen our democracy in the long run,” wrote Obama.
Three years later, we’re looking at a presidential race that’s flooded with candidates—over a dozen in the Republican Party alone—including struggling contenders like George Pataki, the former mayor of Peekskill and governor of New York. Pataki took live questions on Facebook and Twitter this week, making him the most recent presidential candidate to turn to social media to directly sell their message to the American public.
During his hour-long live chat, Pataki covered a number of hot-button topics including Obamacare (“the worst law passed in my lifetime”), education reform (“common core, like Obamacare, must be rejected”), hydrofracking (“hydrofracking has been an energy revolution reducing our dependency on foreign oil and bringing manufacturing jobs”), and what book he’s currently reading (“my daughter Allison Pataki’s book”). When asked what he would do to prevent gridlock in congress, he pointed to his gubernatorial tenure. “As a Republican governor in a deep blue state like New York, you have to be able to work with democrats to get anything done,” wrote Pataki. “It requires an ability to prioritize your agenda—know what’s important and grow its support by reaching out to nontraditional allies.”
Of course, a candidate’s standing in the ranks can change in an instant, so hopefuls must do anything they can to stay relevant. Social media offer candidates an unlimited space to present their ideas, and can give stragglers a platform that might otherwise be reserved for the front runners. On the flip side, social media also let candidates dodge around traditional media and journalists who might pursue topics the candidate doesn’t want to broach.
One such candidate is Westchester’s own Hillary Clinton, whose presidential campaign announcement racked up more conversation on social media than Republican hopefuls Ted Cruz and Rand Paul—combined. For the first three months of her campaign, Clinton didn’t do a single interview with a national news source. Poltico speculated she wanted to quiet the buzz surrounding her use of a private, Chappaqua-based email account while conducting government business. Of course, Clinton enjoys nearly universal name recognition; she has less less riding on traditional media coverage than lesser-known candidates.
Although Clinton hasn’t done any major online Q&As like Pataki’s, a staffer live-tweets many of her speeches, and she even had a mom and small-business owner “take over” her Twitter account for a day.
Clinton’s most prominent competitor in the Democratic primary, Vermont independent senator Bernie Sanders, has also been pulling out all the stops in the social media world. Dubbed “Facebook royalty” by The New York Times and the “president of reddit” by Vox, the 73-year-old candidate has quickly risen to popularity online, racking up thousands upon thousands of likes on his posts.
“I’m not some kind of tech nerd, I really am not,” Sanders told the Times. “But I have always believed in communication, and not just photo ops and stuff, but educating people, and communicating with people about the real work that we’re doing.”