Over the past year, tweeting about politics has gradually become something I do almost every day. Until recently, though, I never thought it would be something I’d do for a letter grade, especially with approximately a hundred other students.
In fact, last Wednesday, #ElectionClass‘s first day, brought an interesting juxtaposition because I experienced the familiar mixed with the new and exciting. My habitual routine of tweeting about politics was transformed from a hobby to an academic pursuit. As of Wednesday, I was officially taking my first class focused on a subject matter that hadn’t even finished happening yet: Social Media and the 2012 Election.
Wednesday’s kick-off to the course featured two very different halves; I’ll start my recap of the course with the first one. Within minutes of walking into the #ElectionClass auditorium, a video featuring all of the Republican presidential primary candidates began playing and Professor Anthony Rotolo took a quick survey of how many students had watched the Republican National Convention (around a quarter of the class) and how many students at least knew that it was happening (everyone).
The class then began discussing some basic political terminology. #ElectionClass consists of the undergraduate section that is hosted by the School of Information Studies in addition to a graduate section that is hosted by the Maxwell School. I am taking the course through the iSchool as an undergraduate, so this recap will focus on the course from that perspective. Because #ElectionClass contains a large number of students without Political Science backgrounds, a review of some terminology was necessary.
Professor Rotolo used Republican Primary Candidates to explain the basics of libertarianism, social conservatism, and brushed on the topic of their campaign strategies. Afterward, a video was shown that explained the electoral college in a humorous and simple manner.
The first half of the class essentially laid out the foundation for what we would continue to learn throughout the rest of the year with some highlights: A video clip of Herman Cain quoting Pokemon on the campaign trail, a brief discussion of Obama doing an IAMA on Reddit, the beginning of the #ElectionClass meme, and the announcement that #ElectionClass had become a trending topic in the United States!
The first portion of the class set the tone for a semester that will include tweets and analysis of current events, an election night party, as well as lots and lots of memes. A brief intermission was taken before the second half of class which included the (even more) hands-on portion of the course. The class was broken up into 14 different groups that would run faux presidential campaigns, while the graduate students in the course would represent members of the media. Each group elected one member to be their candidate for president of Amercia–yes, Amercia, just like the initial typo in Mitt Romney’s mobile app.
The 14 groups were given no names of a candidate, but a simple description of their candidate such as “Former moderate Republican governer from Massachusetts” or “Satirical comedy host turned politician.” The groups were instructed to formulate their own fictional character who bears similarities to the individual they were given, but is not a mirror image. The seven democratic campaigns and seven republican campaigns are further broken up by assigning roles such as ‘campaign manager,’ ‘social media strategist,’ and ‘policy advisor’ to members of the group.
As the semester goes on, the campaigns will have their candidates face off in primary debates, fire members who don’t contribute (or who make mistakes), and eventually vote to elect a president of Amercia on the same night we elect a president of America.
I personally was fortunate enough to be nominated by my campaign to be our candidate for president. My character is a moderate Republican former governor from Massachusetts whose name is Samantha Adams (get it?). While Samantha Adams’ political views don’t align with my own, I’m excited to step outside my comfort zone, research northeastern conservatism more deeply, and participate in such a unique experience.
While I’m sure there will be a lot of silliness, satire, and jokes along the way from the candidates (in fact, we already have a candidate named Hugh Jass) I genuinely believe we will gain a much better understanding of our political system, specifically how a social media campaign is run for a present-day presidential candidate. Despite President Obama heavily utilizing social media to win the 2008 election, there is still a surprising lack of resources dedicated to studying its use. In #ElectionClass, we will be dissecting, analyzing and studying how politicians use social media during the upcoming election in addition to managing our own campaigns.
Although I’m sure it will be as much work as it will be fun, I couldn’t be more proud or excited to be partaking in such a revolutionary college course.