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Is social media changing politics?


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SALT LAKE CITY — Following the controversial sex education bill that mandates abstinence-only instruction in schools, grassroots efforts were utilized to petition Gov. Gary Herbert to veto the bill. Much of the grassroots efforts were driven by social media.

The use of social media is increasingly spreading the word and getting more people involved in the political process. But are grassroots politics increasingly being driven by social media?

As the sex education bill showed, one day it was a debate and a vote, the next it was an Internet storm.

Eric Ethington, communication director for Utah House Democrats, uses social media every day, though he said neither he nor the party are involved in the veto website.

"I think it provides an amazing ability for people to be able to reach out and share their voice," Ethington said about social media.


I think it provides an amazing ability for people to be able to reach out and share their voice.

–Eric Ethington


He said social media is exploding in the political world, including websites to easily, instantly launch petition drives, including the one established to veto Utah's abstinence-only education bill.

"You can go create a position about anything you care about and just start sharing that through Facebook, through Twitter, and you can see how quickly — like a wildfire — this can catch on," Ethington said.

The power of social media is obvious with the documentary- style YouTube video "Kony 2012," a viral sensation, which has nearly 70 million viewings in just a week's time.

The proliferation of portable computers and digital technology has revolutionized many fields, including politics.

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"I would have to say that the thing social media is doing is communicating faster," said Senate President Mike Waddoups, who joined the legislature more than 20 years ago. "When I came in, we used to get a letter that was mailed three days previously. Now, I'm getting emails while I'm sitting on the days they were sent, three minutes ago."

From Gov. Herbert to advocacy groups like the Utah Eagle Forum or think tank groups like the Sutherland Institute, it appears everyone in politics has a Facebook page.

"Having our own Twitter and our own Facebook and our own websites for our campaigns and things like that, I think everybody realizes that's where it's going in terms of the future," said House Speaker Becky Lockhart.

But some are not sold on social media changing political results.

"It does increase awareness, but does it have a long term impact?"said Kirk Jowers of the Hinckley Institute. "I think it's still too early to know how that works."

"I think it's the definition of grassroots these days," added Ethington. "I think it provides an amazing ability for people to be able to reach out and share their voice."

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John Daley

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