Facebook application embraces ’08 election fever

TANIA KARAS

Imagine a mini-feed for John McCain or Barack Obama.

ABC News and Facebook have partnered to create a news feed and an interactive forum covering the 2008 presidential election.

The collaboration comes in the form of the U.S. Politics Facebook application, which the Web site’s 56 million active users can add to their accounts with the click of a button.

“It’s an easy way for users to engage with other like-minded people in a real-time way,” Medill Prof. Steven Duke said.

Duke teaches the course Introduction to 21st Century Media, which examines media and audience trends. “It’s great use of new media by an old-media company.”

The application offers up-to-the-minute election news and debate groups, allowing users to follow ABC News reporters as they update their Facebook profiles with articles, videos and blog posts from the campaign trail.

“It gives the news consumer the opportunity to pick a reporter that they particularly like or trust, follow them in detail and get more real-time information from them,” Duke said. “It makes the whole (reporting) process more transparent.”

The U.S. Politics application also allows users to control content and view only the information they want to view.

“I can get my news when I want it, where I want it, how I want it,” Duke said as he added the application to his Facebook account. “I don’t have to wait for ABC News to present it in the order they want me to hear it. It’s very smart.”

Minutes after the Jan. 5 New Hampshire presidential debates, ABC News broadcast results from Facebook polls such as, “Which issue do you wish the Republican candidates spent more time on?”

Certain polls had nearly 30,000 responses, an indicator of audience involvement.

Weinberg freshman Scott Belsky, who said he uses the application to show support for his favorite politicians, participated in the polls the night of the New Hampshire debates.

“There are two types of people who use it,” Belsky said. “There are people who have a favorite politician because all their friends do. Then there are people who use it for discussions and to engage with other people who also have an interest in politics.”

John Melis, a Music and Weinberg junior, said the application is not indicative of people outside the Facebook community. For example, the application’s “election pulse” feature shows 35 percent of the U.S. Politics users support Ron Paul, while an ABC News poll showed 3 percent support him.

“It’s a lot of people saying ‘Ron Paul forever!'” Melis said. “It’s not really representative of the overall demographic.”

The application includes a link to help users register to vote through Rock the Vote, an organization dedicated to bringing younger people to the polls.

But Melis does not think the application will be effective in doing so.

“It’s a whole different story when it comes to getting people out to vote on the day of the election,” he said. “I don’t know if a Web site will get people out there to vote.”

Reach Tania Karas at [email protected]