Students and faculty were fighting like wildcats for standing room in the Wildcat Theater to catch a presentation by New York Times media reporter Brian Stelter.
Co-sponsored by the Office of the Provost and the American Democracy Project, Stelter’s topic was social media’s impact on governments past, present and future.
“Social media is a megaphone,” said Stelter during his presentation. He cited examples of governors, mayors and other elected officials who used social media, especially Twitter, to encourage transparency with the public.
“We see social media amplifying the messages of governments, not just of our own, but of many others as well,” Stelter said. “Social media can help us relate to our public officials, and it can also help them relate to us. And that’s one of the most important ways social media has impacted governments.”
Stelter used social media during his presentation. A live Twitter feed was displayed on the projector behind him as he spoke. Audience members tweeted questions and responses, and bantered back and forth.
“Representative is the key word here,” Stelter said. “Governments are supposed to represent us. Oftentimes we feel like they have fell short of that promise to represent us, but being on the same social networks as us, by delivering information via social media, and hopefully, most importantly, by responding, by engaging, by being involved . . . they can hopefully more effectively represent us in the future.”
Leah Murray, a political science and philosophy professor, encouraged her students to attend the event.
“I was tweeting,” Murray said. “Social media to me is the free marketplace of ideas. And I always have believed that to counteract speech, you react with more speech, and the best way to do that is to keep talking.”
Murray said she used social media in her classes as an educational function during the presidential debates last year.
“The college-age students are fluent in talking this way, so you’ve got to capitalize on it.”
Stelter, who joined The New York Times in 2007, is also the author of “Top of the Morning,” a New York Times bestseller. His book was supposed to be offered for purchase after the event, but it wasn’t available in time. Instead, Stelter stayed after to answer students questions one on one.
Ashlee Cawley, a dual English and political science senior who attended Stelter’s presentation, said the live Twitter feed helped to fuel more questions from the audience. She said it’s important for the government to engage in social media.
“It’s more about reaching the people you need to reach,” Cawley said.
Matt Glover, a student and marketing director for the American Democracy Project, said he was excited to have the New York Times partner with WSU and provide “such great speakers.”
“Any candidate that ignores social media runs a huge risk,” Glover said. He said the elections in North Ogden were a good example of using social media to reach out the public to gain potential votes.
Cawley agreed, saying political parties will do a better job of engaging the public in time.
“Well, you’re just ignoring people,” she said. “You want to reach as many people as you can, so if you choose to ignore it, you’re just choosing to lose an opportunity.”