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Social media’s impact on the 2012 election, and on a local Florida race

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This election season, social media exploded on the political scene and changed how candidates campaign and communicate with voters. Chuck Chestnut and Dean Cheshire, two Alachua County Commission candidates, have benefited from using Facebook in their campaigns.

Chestnut, who has been in politics for more than 10 years, said campaigning has evolved since the last presidential election.

“Folks are using social media now, in terms of Facebook, Twitter and all of that stuff,” Chestnut said. “[Social media use] has evolved greatly, and it has advanced.”

In a report on NPR’s “Weekend Edition”, Scott Simon said the number of tweets during presidential debates increased from 500,000 in 2008 to 7.2 million in 2012. The trend toward immediate conversation between people and candidates influenced Chestnut to jump into social media.

“Everything is highly technical now. If you want to be in politics, you have to begin to learn the highly technical stuff to be effective,” Chestnut said. “It’s a good tool to reach constituents.”

Chestnut said he initially feared sharing information through a public forum.

“I’ve always had a fear of Facebook, of folks posting stuff on there that’s not true about you,” he said. “By the time you get to correct it, the damage is already done.”

Cheshire said he immediately recognized the value of social media and created a Facebook page the day he filed to campaign.

“I think it’s got tremendous impact on the campaign,” he said. “It gives another venue to reach future voters, hopeful voters and people who are trying to learn.”

Cheshire said social media created opportunities to gather volunteers, create events and communicate the tone of his campaign.

“They see an opportunity to learn about a candidate without necessarily getting hands on in a campaign,” he said. “They see the positivity and the aspirational tone of our campaign, and they want to get involved because of that.”

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