You've been invited to vote for…

By Taylor Uggla

As the campaigns leading up to last week’s Macalester College Student Government’s (MCSG) elections showed, has played an integral role in the campaign strategies of several candidates, providing a way for students to inform their peers about campus issues in an easy and accessible manner.

Several of this year’s MCSG candidates created Facebook groups and wrote emails in order to publicize their campaigns. However, despite its increased presence in Macalester politics, it is yet to be proven whether this particular strategy has worked in the candidates’ favor.

“I don’t think my Facebook group was that effective,” said Natalia Espejo ’07, a candidate in last week’s presidential election who received 17 percent of the vote. “In retrospect, it wasn’t the best call, because I rallied support from people who were already going to vote for me anyway.”

Espejo said that her Facebook group was more of a reference point than a tool. She said she did not see it as a determining factor, citing the results of last year’s MCSG presidential election as an example.

“[Then-candidate] Alex Flores [’08] had over 300 members in his Facebook group while [President] Ben [Johnson ’06] only had around 100 members,” Espejo noted of last year’s presidential election. “But Ben won anyway.”

Other candidates in the election agreed.

Sheena Paul ’07, Vice President-elect, also created a Facebook group, and used two administrators to invite people to join.

“It didn’t influence my vote, but publicized the fact that I was running, which was my intent,” she said. “I didn’t campaign as much as other candidates, but I don’t think this was influenced by my Facebook group. I think these groups are positive as long as there is no negative online campaigning happening.”

Jess Hasken ’07, MCSG president-elect said that although she does not think that Facebook groups are the best way to get students involved, she finds it useful to advertise political events. In her experience, she said, people sometimes check their Facebook accounts more often than their actual email, so promoting events that way can help to let people know of goings-on on campus. This way, people can stay informed without feeling obligated to join any groups, and without receiving mass emails in their inboxes.

“I think that the Internet can be helpful in some aspects, but it can also get a little annoying,” Hasken said. “I don’t read some of the Facebook invites that I receive, and I suspect that this is true for a lot of students. I prefer talking with people face to face.”

Hasken continued: “I went door-knocking in the freshman dorms the night before the election, and I believe that actually discussing issues with students in person has the most impact.”

Koko Lee ’09 said that she mostly ignored the Internet campaigning, despite the fact that she was invited to join several campaign groups and received numerous emails.

“I relied on The Mac Weekly to educate me on the various candidates’ platforms, since I couldn’t make it to the debates,” she said. “There was one campaign strategy on Facebook that I was encouraged to vote for that later turned out to be somewhat underhanded. It actually made me glad that I ignored the whole thing.”

Lee said that, nonetheless, she does not think that there is anything wrong with using the Internet to campaign, viewing it to be just like any other strategic tool. She commented that in some ways, it is more visible than other campaign methods, considering the popularity and accessibility of Facebook.

Anna Lifson ’06 agreed that the Internet is a useful tool in campaigning, as long as it is not the only medium for students to access information.

“Using the Internet does seem to be one of the fastest ways of reaching most people these days,” Lifson said. “If people want to send out messages explaining their issue positions, that’s fine, I’ll read them and make an informed decision. I just don’t want to be told to vote for someone or support what they are doing just because I am friends with him or her on Facebook.”

Read the Spring 2006 MCSG Election results