New Media, The “Youth Vote” And Generation “We”

The “audacity of hope”…It’s a powerful potion for all ages, not just Generation “WE.” I wrote about “marketing hope” awhile back on this post Inconvenient Truth Meets Digital Earth and am in a bit of deja vu, balancing equal parts challenge and roll up the sleeves pragmatics…

I wonder what category I ended up in via Facebook’slargest online rally in history…”

I chose to ‘donate my status’ and track the use of new media in this historic election, but as usual, did it the maverick vs. sheeple way to ‘see what would happen’ if I could support a proposition vs. a person!

I used the humane treatment of animals as my test of the application, since it’s a cause I support on a national scale, even though Yes on Prop 2 was only for California…It indeed worked like a charm, as did the animated piggy tales viral to stir up the action, and I AM duly impressed with the toolbox of digital outreach and media mobilization…

BUT…I am NOT, (repeat not!) likely to slough off the Obama win to the Facebook phenom, nor to new media…nor to “the youth vote” (MSNBC) or “Generation We” for that matter. I find that to be WAY too simplistic, and frankly, a bit offensive, doing a disservice to all ages, races, and thinking brains. It was much ‘bigger’ than “brand Obama.”

Can “WE” be inclusive? Yes, we can…

Just as millennials are requesting to be treated as adults, not just “the youth vote” (SF Gate article here) I guess I’d add that we adults are not quite ready to “turn over the reins” and be banished to extinction like Pleistocene era dinosaurs just because we don’t fit the big new speed bump in the demographic of life…(e.g.“WE are 95 million strong, compared to the 78 million Baby Boomers” yadayada)

Not so fast, whippersnappers! (insert granny grin of your choice) Much has been made of the youth and internet’s role in the making of the Tech President, but to me, media is STILL just the distribution channel…Mass media has little to do with whether or not you’re informed about the issues themselves. It’s easy to mass market. It’s more difficult to impart meaningful core messages en masse!

I’d like to look deeper into how political activism and new media have mashed up in new ways to “Tweet the Vote” and ‘Reboot America’ but moreover, how the conversational dialog has enhanced and/or diminished the formation of opinions.

What can we learn from the media mobilization of constituencies from all sides? How are youth engaging in various media?

Are Web 2.0 dialogs like the running commentary on Current TV’s ‘hack the debate’ a social experiment that will stick?

Is there a concern we’re entering into even more of a distracted “sound bite” mentality with microblogging when what is needed is more substance? Or are the URL links data nuggets to contribute value and depth toward a more meaningful conversational probe?

These are TONS of ‘new media’ youth vote conversations I’d like to toss out there, akin to Sandra Foyt’s post On Living By Learning where she asks, “To Blog Or Not To Blog In The Microblog Era.”

Example? Somehow the ‘hack the debate’ concept was neat in theory, but the multitasking notion of trying to comment, read comments, watch and listen in real time seems to alter the entire conversation into a distraction…Kind of like being in a virtual world in full role play when someone is “instant messaging” you out of character.

Many gamers admit how DIFFICULT it is to be in two ‘worlds’ at once…(real/virtual/IM/online) so the thought of multiple conversations with a cacophony of noisy distractions resulting in “those who don’t actually listen or don’t allow themselves time to process what they’re hearing.” (hack the debate commenter) seems a bit ADHD on the focus-front, ya know?

With real life issues and substantive voter content in the mix it seems less than desirable for retention…but you’ve got to hand it to Current TV for trying…it was an unfiltered experiment worth giving a go.

Speaking of multitasking, the Twitterati went at it for a record-breaking election extravaganza of historically heavy use last night, and it evidently proved to be a winner by not crashing even with all that ‘tweeting.’ 

But then…we may not even be talking about YOUTH in the microblogging sphere.

As Meredith over at Ypulse explains, the Facebook surge via groups, gifts, profile pictures and solidarity of “status updates” being used as virtual soapboxes to rally the vote is primarily due to the fact that “teens and early twentysomethings are slow to get aboard the Twitter train, so statuses are the closest many come to microblogging.”

Which begs the question, are social networking platforms and political activism just another way to communicate with an already engaged public? Or are we pulling in new eyes and ears into the civic arena?

How much of the Facebook rally was youth?

If MySpace has been taken over by 8th graders, and Facebook is attracting more adults, brands, and mainstream use, then where are the youth landing in the media mix?

And how much of the ‘get out the vote’ status rally converted to actual voting booth tallies? I guess part of that answer is “who cares” as It was a valiant effort and fascinating phenomenon to witness regardless, ramping up on Facebook something like this:


Thursday: 1,340 participants

Friday 36,330 participants

Saturday 91,290 participants

Sunday 358,147 participants

Monday 932,846 participants

Then at midnight, (12:01am to be exact) like Cinderella, everyone’s status line turned into a cause (those that had chosen to participate) and lo and behold, the fairy godmother of voting wishes sprinkled some pretty substantial stats for election day reminders!

Here’s how it looked: (data from FB)

Election Day
6am    1,140,676 participants
12pm  1,476,788 participants
6pm    1,718,638 participants
8pm    1,745,793 participants

Barack Obama    1,190,897 participants    70%
John McCain    370,801 participants    21%
Just get out the vote!    132,282 participants    7%
Misc: Bob Barr 2,970 participants, Joe the Plumber 152 participants

(No ‘humane farm animal yes on 2’ categories so I’m probably in the 7% ‘get out the vote’ crew, hmn?)

As cool as the Facebook rally was, and the plethora of media hype swirling the blogosphere that  ‘young people rocked the polls’ and ‘Obama won the youth vote’ I strongly feel the ageless inclusiveness and bipartisan cooperation that Mr. Obama tapped into is being overlooked for the ‘shiny penny’ of media and millennial magic.

If I were Senator Obama, I’d be a wee bit irked if media portrays him as winning based on a pile of texts, tweets, and turnovers of status to implore campus kids to get their keisters out to vote…it belittles his platform.

To me, giving too much clout to any one demographic group or media channel seems a bit  risks falling into the ‘causal link’ approach that flies in the face of critical thinking skills when sweeping generalizations trump reality.

Obama’s win wasn’t just about ‘the youth vote’ any more than ‘the youth vote’ was about media techno tools! In other words, it may be concurrent without being ‘causal’…

Sure, there was a record turnout at the polls with MSNBC reporting the highest share of the youth vote obtained by any candidate since exit polls began reporting results by age (1976)…

…But that doesn’t factor in the multi-generational ‘me to we’ zeitgeist where people of multiple ages, colors, and socioeconomic backgrounds were voting on the “change” platform of “brand Obama,” converted Republicans and Colin Powell’s of the world united in purpose.

To me, the massive mindshift from “me to we” is lighting up some hope and promise in a very messy world right now…”We’ll be the ones in control of the economy,” this young voter implored, so it’s easy to see why the very act of voting is an act of hope.

That said, narrowcasting a media watch of whether or not “the youth vote would come through” is kinda like watching The Daily Show or “on the street” episodes of a misinformed student airhead and then surmising “all young people” are uninformed or parrots of their parents…

That’s a snapshot, not a photo album.

You have to see the bigger picture…The dedicated students that “study the candidates just like we study for a test,” as this AP article notes. Or parents, grandparents, and kids alike having “the audacity of hope” sharing a very rare “same side of the fence” in many families…

So why did I find myself squirming a bit when I watched this “Generation We” video, (below?) I figured I’d lap it right up in ‘power of media for positive change’ mode, and instead I felt a little…well…edgy. Maybe even uncomfy.

Was it because I’m not “born between 1978 and 2000” and a card-carrying member of Generation We?

As a media producer, I’m always a bit reticent of anything that smacks of “us vs. them” polarity or stereotyping, and the ‘WE’ video seems to be out of character with the rest of the ‘hope’ messaging and embracing of the larger “we.”

Obama is talking progress, bipartisan hope, and unity, and the WE video is using the ‘same ol’ same ol'”  requisite dose of anger, angst and rhetoric of “who made the mess, and who has to clean it up” bit. So I guess I’m ready for some ‘we’ thinking…some ‘we’ action and some ‘we’ pragmatics to mop up the massive mess.

I’m battle-worn from ageism, sexism, racism, and every other fear-driven ‘ism’ that blame gamers have used to dodge accountability and responsibility in the world media sphere…so when I watch this (shoulda been inspiring/hopeful) ‘we’ video, it feels like ‘we’ are backsliding, even though that was NOT the intent…So let’s try this again. I’m up for some serious cycle-breaking…

My personal plea to the ‘Future Majority’ of ‘Generation We?’(Millennials are the largest generation in American history; “WE are 95 million strong, compared to the 78 million Baby Boomers” yadayada…)

Please recognize quickly this is NOT a numbers game. Combative finger-pointing feels unnecessarily divisive, not inclusive. Be humble. Be mindful. Be wise. Take a page from the graciousness of the inclusive Facebook team example of ‘gen we”…

This is supposed to be the dawn of a new era with new thinking and new solutions…so let’s stay with the inclusive tone of hope and promise…Do we really want to widen the generation gap now that we’ve narrowed the racial one? A chasm is a chasm, and I’m not eager to swap one for another.

What would Obama say? πŸ˜‰ (Ahem. Ok, that was wry, but you get my drift…)

Build up, don’t tear down. Turn “me into we” without shouting. Can “WE?” Yes, we can.

Generation WE video ( What do you think?

Visual Credits: AP photo credit/Change; Obama Hope, Ad Age; Granny photo: Tweety Pics/



  1. This just came in from the Facebook ’causes’ application wrap-up crew…

    A very gracious twenty-something band of voices, filled with hope and promise in “can-do” spirit! Warms my heart.

    And of course, the ‘mom’ in me is thinking, “what manners! To Thank your supporters, grow your friendship base with kindness and show the world what matters to you.” Millennials rising indeed.

    Here’s the heartfelt e-blast (and no, that’s not an oxymoron)

    “No matter your political persuasion, November 4th was a historic day. This is particularly true for young people. We at Causes are all in our twenties, and we are very proud that our generation overcame many doubters and turned out to vote in unprecedented numbers.

    But our generation did not just vote, we built innovative tools that changed how the election was conducted, and the Election Rally was just one of many successful initiatives. Our goal was to make sure as many people in our generation voted as possible. We did not think it would be enough just to remind people, you would have had to have been living in a cave to not know it was election day. We wanted to use the unique social nature of Facebook to create peer pressure to let everyone know that all of their friends wanted them to vote.

    To this end, the focus of the initiative was the “Midnight Rally,” which people could sign up for starting the evening of October 30th. Just after midnight the night before the election, 932,846 people’s status messages all changed at the same time. This rippled across Facebook and Feed, leading millions of the friends of the participants to wake up the morning of election day with multiple friends reminding them to go vote. This was perhaps the largest simultaneous action in internet history. We can never know its true effect, but we like to think it made a significant difference.

    Thank you again from the Causes Team:
    Jimmy, Kristján, Jen, Kevin, Chris, Josh, Chase, Brad, Joe, Susan, Sarah, Matt, David, Jill, Shari & Sean.”

  2. I think we’ll be studying the role of social media tools in political campaigns for quite awhile. I’d like to see more data supporting what we’ve seen, to prove or disprove our suspicions regarding youth & media.

    But, what really excites me today, is what happens next. How does the ability to build a massive online database of supporters impact how you go forward in shaping policy? How do you continue to engage those supporters in a positive, mutually beneficial way?

  3. Agree, Sandra, lots to study and discern ‘where to go from here’ in media mobilization and how to assess ways to actually SHAPE policy rather than just ‘be heard.’

    (I’m always getting asked, for example, whether those online petitions and such mean anything…Is it headcount? Is it spam blocked on the govt./leadership front etc.—I think that would make a good feature, as many have told me it’s more about ‘assessing brand loyalty and passion’ on certain projects…e.g. If a nonprofit has tons of ‘save the hippos’ and zero ‘act for xyz’ or whatever then the ‘hippos’ get the lion’s share of their budget/focus/prioritization based on community response. Have you heard this as well?)

    I’m going to ask about it at Netsquared Tues. (NPTech forum on 11-11, as Alex Steed (Millennials Changing America) is making his swing through here! πŸ™‚ More soon…Amy

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