Facebook Timeline and political posturing 31

This is a guest post by Samantha Hamilton. Follow her on Twitter at @SamJHamilton.

Launched earlier this year, Facebook has quickly rolled out its Timeline functionality to users globally and recently gave brands the chance to utilize the new option. However, yesterday Timeline saw a first: its use as a negative political campaign tactic.

Yesterday, following former-Governor Mitt Romney’s six-state Super-Tuesday win, Newt Gingrich rolled out the “Romney Record.” A Facebook Timeline, the “Romney Record” chronicles Romney’s political career, specifically highlighting what Gingrich deems to be his more “liberal & out-of-touch” moments.

The Timeline starts in 1947, with Romney’s birth and jumps to 1984, when Romney helped start Bain Capital (with a photo of Romney and his colleagues literally covered in money). It continues with highlights from Romney’s political career: photos and videos from his 1994 senatorial run and first gubernatorial campaign.

Presented as being a record of Romney’s liberal leanings, the postings focus mainly on his support of the individual mandate (also known as RomneyCare) and highlight several gaffes from the current presidential campaign  (“I like being able to fire people” and “I’ll bet you $10,000”).

As a visual interpretation, the “Romney Record” serves a great purpose. It provides users with an easy to digest, chronological view of a candidate’s history. Gingrich is no stranger to this major upside to Timeline, he was the first U.S. candidate to unveil one.


However, there is a serious consequence to this new social strategy. Namely, a negligible lack of transparency. Gingrich’s involvement in the page is hidden, a small footnote on the page’s “About” section. Additionally, as with most Internet content, the lack of gatekeepers means that this type of page presents whatever the creator wants it to present. In this case that means Romney’s supposedly “liberal” policies, while at the same time completely failing to mention anything that could be construed as positive about the candidate.

Political posturing is nothing new. Candidates have been slinging the metaphorical mud for as long as there have been candidates. But, what happens when that message is presented in an unexpected, and unassuming, way? From simply looking at the main Timeline of the “Romney Record” you would never assume that it was associated with another candidate. The danger lies in social media being distorted so that users begin to see this strategy as a reliable source for news and information, instead of what it really is: a political advertisement.

The use of social media in politics is so new and is still evolving, so the implications of Gingrich’s Timeline strategy are still yet to be seen. However, keep a close eye on the general election this fall, where social media is sure to be used by both candidates for a wide variety of purposes.

What do you think about politicians making their campaigns more socially savvy?

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