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Civics and social media: How iSideWith can help your students

4 min read


From Obama’s massively retweeted victory tweet on election night to the Big Bird memes that went viral after Romney’s PBS remark in the first debate, it’s pretty clear that campaign-related social media usage hit new highs in 2012. If you think that’s been a good thing for your socially wired students, though, recent statistics suggest otherwise.

A Pew Research Center study published Sept. 28 found young voters this election season “significantly less engaged” than they were around the same time in 2008. Only 63% of young registered voters (ages 18-29) said they would definitely vote in this election, compared with 72% in 2008, the study reported. And while 35% of voters under age 30 paid close attention to campaign coverage four years ago, the study found just 18% in tune with the election’s twists and turns this year.

Taylor Peck thinks that decline has a lot to do with new media itself. “Because of the 24 hour news cycle … people are constantly focused on … the latest gaffe a candidate has made, or some scandal that is heating up. … most people have forgotten where a candidate stands on issues and what is important to them,” he said in an interview earlier this year.

That’s the idea behind iSideWith, a policy education website Peck — a self-identified politics junkie — launched last March with long-time friend and web designer Nick Boutelier. The site’s main feature is a questionnaire that asks users their opinions on major policy issues, compares their results with the views of the presidential candidates, and lets them share those results with friends on Facebook and other social media platforms.

“We wanted to make it easy for the average American to access information based on their views and match them with the candidates who are running for an elected office,” Peck told Forbes in July.

The number of Americans who have taken the quiz, which updates every few seconds on the site’s home page, is nearing six million. I took it myself a few weeks ago. It was as user-friendly as the founders claimed it to be, and I could see iSideWith becoming an excellent way to get students thinking about their voting responsibilities — and politics in general.

Why? Because it seeks to engage as well as inform. Even if your students aren’t yet old enough to vote, they will be soon — and sites like iSideWith can help them realize, sooner rather than later, that their opinions matter.

“Many young people really respond well when they’re not just being asked to do something in support of a candidate, but are asked what they think or given opportunities to circulate their perspectives throughout their networks,” Joseph Kahne, an education professor and chairman of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Youth Participatory Politics (YPP), said in October.

iSideWith fulfills both of those recommendations. As soon as I finished the questionnaire, multiple opportunities to share the results appeared alongside the results themselves. I could post them to Facebook or Twitter (with or without my own comments), share them by e-mail or turn them into a compact, easy-to-print chart. I could also “like” iSideWith’s Facebook page, and — perhaps the most intriguing feature — I could track the number of friends who took the questionnaire in response to my posts about it.

Sounds like a great opportunity for a class contest — especially since the site’s not going anywhere. “We’d like to expand our marketing and social media across the web … so that we can go into congressional races across the country,” Peck told socaltech.

Sarah Wade is a writer at SmartBrief. A recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, she writes for food, retail and hospitality briefs and contributes to several SmartBlogs.