Do social media snafus result in lost elections?

I think this is an interesting – and important question.  After all, half of what I talk about in this blog is the importance of properly using social media for elected officials, and I frequently blog about what happens when social media is used improperly by government leaders.  As such, the question becomes this: What happens to electeds who use social media poorly?  Do they lose reelection?

Believe it or not, by and large, I’m guessing not.  It’s very hard for an incumbent to lose, despite a social media mistake – or any other, for that matter.

So, to check the answer to this question, I went back to Tweets and Consequences reviewed the elected officials who I covered in the book.  Here are the results:

  • Joe Miller: 2010 Republican nominee for Alaska Senate who tweeted about how he couldn’t wait to take office – even though he hadn’t won yet.  He lost in a major upset.
  • Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN): Sent bizarre tweets to model Victoria Brink, and later claimed that she was his daughter, only to retract that claim when a paternity test proved otherwise.  Won reelection in 2014.
  • Colleen Lachowicz: 2012 Maine State Senate candidate who had her World of Warcraft character, and comments she made in online forums, used against her.  Won election.
  • Dr. Milton Wolf: Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, who uploaded pictures of x-rays and made ghoulish and tasteless comments with the x-rays.  Lost primary challenge to Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS).
  • Congressman David Cassidy (R-LA): While running against Senator Mary Landreau, staff tweeted a photoshopped a picture of the Senator on Benito Mussolini’s body.  Cassidy handily beat Landrieu in a runoff election.
  • State Senator Robert Rucho (R-SC): Tweeted that Justice Roberts did more damage to the US than “the swords of the Nazis, Soviets terrorists combined.”  Won his primary in a close election, but was unchallenged in the general election.
  • State Representative Joe Fitzgibbon (D-WA): Tweeted that Arizona was a “desert racist wasteland.”  Fitzgibbon won reelection.
  • Stewart Mills (R-MN): Ran for Congress against first termer Rick Nolan (D), and had photos appear of him on Facebook that were less than flattering.  Nolan defeated Mills.
  • State Representative Kyle Tasker: New Hampshire State Representative (R) who, while discussing domestic violence on a Facebook thread, posted a picture of two stick figures having oral sex with the caption, “50,000 battered women and I still eat mine plain.” Tasker was reelected.
  • Joshua Black: Candidate for Florida State House of Representatives (R) who called for the hanging of President Obama.  Lost the Republican primary.
  • State Representative Pat Garofalo: Minnesota State Representative (R) who tweeted that the NBA was filled with criminals.  Won reelection.
  • Congressman John Flemming (R-LA): Conservative Congressman who posted an article from The Onion on abortions, failing to realize that the article was satire.  Won reelection.

So, of the 12, 8 won and 4 lost.  The conclusion?  It’s hard to draw.  In most cases, I’d say that the social media helped to formulate people’s opinions of a candidate that were being enforced anyway.  Only in the case of Dr. Wolf do I think the Facebook use, in and of itself, was particularly damaging.

What do you think?  Any other thoughts to add?  Let us know in the comments!


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