Candidates use Facebook to reach young voters

Candidates running for local and federal offices in Maryland are appealing to college-aged voters by creating Facebook and MySpace profiles and groups.

The Facebook, created by Harvard graduate Mark Zuckerberg in 2004, has more than 8 million student members. MySpace, a similar social networking site, receives over 58 million hits per month.

Recently, political and social organizations picked up on the trend and bought advertisement space and created accounts on Facebook to attract young voters, according to a Time.com article.

Erin Lauer, a sophomore in the School of International Service, is the volunteer coordinator for the Allan Lichtman campaign and creator of the "Allan Lichtman, Democrat for U.S. Senate" Facebook group.

As a history professor at AU for over 30 years, Lichtman would be the only lifetime educator in the U.S. Senate. However, Lichtman is one of 18 Democratic candidates for Maryland's open U.S. Senate seat in the Sept. 12 primary, according to Washingtonpost.com.

What sets Lichtman apart from his fellow candidates is his campaign strategy of targeting young voters. Allan uses his MySpace site, on which he has over 3,315 friends, to post his campaign platform and volunteer opportunities.

Lauer's initiative and pioneering creation MySpace and Facebook accounts for Lichtman have won Lichtman mention in Washingtonpost.com, Time.com and CNN articles.

Lauer said she sees the potential that Facebook in particular has in getting college students involved in political campaigns.

"Facebook is a great way for Allan to approach 18 to 24 year olds because we have been neglected by traditional politics," Lauer said. "It was a different and innovative way to work on a campaign by showing people and getting Allan's name out there."

Lauer said she thinks there is a different dimension in the Facebook campaigning.

"We're coming into college students' lives more than door-to-door [campaigning], and we want to hear from them," Lauer said.

Molly Wilkins, a sophomore in SIS, was the field coordinator for the Lichtman campaign this summer. Wilkins explained that the campaign got a lot of volunteers through Facebook.

"We sent out a lot of mass group invitations in the summer and throughthat we got a lot of publicity and his name out," Wilkins said.

Wilkins explained that although most of the students contacted we not from Maryland, she hopes that the Facebook group would make those from the area more aware of Lichtman's policies.

Wilkins also feels that Facebook reaches out to younger voters as a less invasive method of campaigning.

Jahantab Siddiqui, a junior at the University of Maryland, is the former statewide college coordinator for Baltimore mayor Martin O'Malley, who is running for governor of Maryland. Siddiqui is also the creator of the "O'Malley-Brown for Maryland" Facebook group.

Siddiqui said he saw Facebook's power of networking.

"Facebook is a way for us to get students together and get the word out and keep students involved," Siddiqui said. "Almost everyone who goes to a university or college is on Facebook. You can reach out to more people - that really is what Facebook has done."

In addition to networking students, Siddiqui also noted Facebook's importance as an education tool.

"Students are starting to really connect with the campaign," Siddiqui said. "I think that it's really important to keep college-aged students involved and have them become a part of the process."

University of Maryland sophomore Courtney Cochrane said she has noticed the rise in political campaigns' involvement on Facebook.

"I think Facebook is such a phenomenal networking tool for college students that it vastly expands the candidates' ability to reach out to younger demographics, and it gives the candidates a forum that college students are interested in," Cochrane said.

In addition to its networking and advertising aspects, Lauer said she has noticed the potential internship and job opportunities available to students through Facebook campaigns. Lauer said she feels that the Facebook group encouraged her friends to volunteer because, for Lauer, volunteering led to an internship and eventually led to her getting paid.

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