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OUR VIEW: Social media isn’t a campaign shortcut

On February 28, 2013

 

Facebook is not the basis of good government. Yet many of the candidates in this year’s election have offered social media as a solution to the disconnect between students and student government. It’s come up in debates and in the candidates’ written platforms.

ASUSU already has Facebook pages. There are Utah State University Student Involvement and Leadership, Utah State ASUSU and the USU Student Voice Think Tank, to name a few. Whether these pages are effective or not, creating additional pages probably won’t reach more students.

Social media sites can be powerful tools to share information and bring people together, but they’re not replacements for hard work. Yes, a few posts go viral for no apparent reason. Unless ASUSU electees are willing to embed their message in images of robot pirate ninja zombies or videos of cats burping the alphabet, however, promoting a forum for student discussion on Facebook will take a lot of elbow grease. We’re not saying that a site dedicated to student concerns and grievances is a bad idea, we’re saying that it will take a lot of planning, communication and promotion.

For many grievances — perhaps the most important grievances — Facebook or a similarly open site is a bad forum for discussion. Information about criminal or otherwise inappropriate behavior should be considered from several different angles before publication in any media. Will the information harm the victim? Are the allegations accurate? If not, someone may be culpable for libel. With the recent “Utah State University Confessions” Facebook page incident, we’ve seen what some students are willing to post online — pretty much anything. Some of the posts are harmless humor, some have started constructive conversations and some are downright creepy. But we’ve also seen what kind of heat information like that can bring from USU administration and police. An ASUSU officer connected with information like that would create a scandal.

While a Facebook page could be a great way to put issues on ASUSU’s radar, it can’t guarantee a representative picture of the student body’s concerns. There are so many factors that can skew the tone and type of comments on a Facebook page — other comments on the page, the way the student was introduced to the site, whether the site is viewed on a desktop or a mobile device. You may find out what your friends think, or what Internet trolls think, but finding out what a larger section of the student body thinks is harder. For that, officers should turn to well-designed, statistically sound surveys.

Seeking input from a constituency is the mark of a good leader — but if your best plan is a Facebook page, it’s time for a reality check.

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