By: Diane Stirling
(315) 443-8975

All semester, twin microcosms of the American political process have played out in real life and in real time for students in the School of Information Studies-offered course, “Social Media in the 2012 Election.”

Last night, students, faculty members, fans, and observers of “#ElectionClass” gathered to add their voices and their votes to the Election Day chatter and to watch emerging social media trends. Several teams of students  had been conducting—and many dozens of other students and class fans had been following—the tandem political races that ElectionClass members have been eating, sleeping, and breathing for the past 10 weeks. Yes, they were tracking the American presidential races. But also of high interest: who was selected as president of “Amercia”— the course’s “parallel universe” where student teams have been hosting as-real-as-it-gets campaigns.

The watch party and vote was a culminating event for the more than 100 students who began the semester as 14 teams of candidates and campaign operations. Through experiential-learning processes mirroring actual ones, students formed committees, built campaigns, espoused issues, hosted debates, and participated in polls. Their activities have been framed by how social media, as emerging technologies and cultural phenomena, impact the American political landscape.

(Shortly after 9 p.m., the announcement was made: Sen. Matt Diaz, the candidate representing the Democratic senator from New York, and portrayed by student Jared Kraham, was chosen as Amercia’s leader.)

The Reality Blur

The reality-show-like experience came with a little blurring of the lines for students mounting in-person and online campaigns as they study the issues of the U.S. 2012 election.

iSchool student Bob O’Brien, whose alter-ego has been “Robert Lawrence,” the Republican candidate in the race for president of Amercia, put it this way: “It’s one thing to learn about a campaign; it’s another thing to be a campaign. I spent my first three years at this school learning about politics inside the classroom, not really outside. It was great to see Professor [Anthony] Rotolo take my interest in politics and my interest in social media and weave them together,” said the Information Management and Technology major.

Lawrence’s VP candidate, Jenn McKay, an SU Maxwell School senior studying political science and public policy, said she was “absolutely invested in winning.” To begin with, she said, “I was like, ‘We’ll see what happens.’ But after the first [election round], when I came in second, I decided there’s no way I’m settling; I will be his VP,” she enthused.

Regardless of outcome, her “Mary Ann Taylor” candidate said her efforts have been worthwhile. “I wish everyone on campus had the opportunity to take this class. I’ve probably learned more from this class than I’ve learned from any class in my three years at SU,” she said. “Where can you learn how to be a candidate and run a campaign? You can’t learn that anywhere else, and it is information that’s going to translate into life experience.”

With only a one-act high school play to his name, Brad Slavin, aka “Carter Rhodes,” Amercia’s TV satirist/Independent (the “Everyone’s Invited To This Party” candidate), says it’s been easy to portray a persona and apply course lessons, but he has experienced some challenges. “It’s been extremely emotionally draining. It’s been hard to separate myself from this character, but the amount of support I’ve gotten from my group, we’ve done things I didn’t think we’d ever be ever be able to do  in a record amount of time.  I’m extremely excited now that [the vote] is going campus-wide. ” 

Slavin, a dual Newhouse (Radio-TV-Film) and iSchool (Information Management and Technology) major, sees the course as “a giant platform. It’s something that everyone in the nation is paying attention to, and you get to look at it through this really unique perspective—the perspective of technology.”

While there’s the playacting aspect, class social media undertakings are of practical use,   according to “Robert Lawrence” (Bob O’Brien). “Our generation in college right now, we spend a good majority of time in front of the screen, and facebook and Twitter take up lot of different aspects of your time. [This] takes more than one person to do what you’re doing. Campaign teams are so important because you have talent in so many areas – web design, video, and the fact that you’re drawing on the talents of everyone is unique. I’m big into digital and social media. I’m invested because I’m getting the experience — even if it’s a mock campaign.”

From a political family, Jared Kraham, the class Democratic Party choice, knew what to expect in a campaign, and ElectionClass has lived up to his hopes. “The course blends my two favorite things, social media and politics,” said the dual Maxwell (political science) and Newhouse (broadcast journalism) senior. “Candidates are now expected to have a 24/7 presence in social media. We’ve worked our tails off constantly thinking of new ways to engage our audience. We’re really gaining valuable knowledge if we ever want to go out and apply these principles to any endeavor,” he added.

Kraham’s “Sen. Matt Diaz” lived the course realism for weeks, too. “It feels real because when the votes come in and the ads come up, you feel personally connected and you want to win. Those emotions are real and they really translate.”

At his victory speech, Diaz/Kraham congratulated his opponents, thanked his team, and looked to the future, just like winning candidates all over America were doing last night. Then, he revealed what he felt was the secret to the campaign’s success. “We knew that if our message stayed consistent as it did through the entire campaign, we’d have a good chance to win. I think voters looked very closely at our campaign and at the end of the day, we ran a very competitive campaign. We turned out our supporters and I think we swayed some people who were maybe voting for another candidate. All the candidates ran great campaigns, and I think we all learned a lot about the political process.”

To see web sites about the class and the candidates, visit:

Twitter: @ElectionClass

Robert Lawrence and Mary Ann Taylor: 
Twitter: @RLforPresident

Carter Rhodes:  
Twitter: @CRhodes2012

Sen. Matt Diaz: 
Twitter: @SenMattDiaz