The phenomenon of social networking sites may change the way we participate in politics.
John McDonald/the Gauntlet

Facebook, YouTube and...politics?

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Social networking sites have been garnering attention in the political realm from Stephen Harper to grassroots activists.

The University of Calgary's Alberta Global Forum and the Glenbow museum hosted a public forum at the Telus Convention Center entitled Facebook, YouTube and Blogs: Do They Matter Wed., Oct. 10. The forum included a panel of experts in the field of communications which debated whether or not the new forums of communication are going to provide outlets for social change. The ultimate goal of AGF is to engage citizens and to create events where ideas can be shared in a place without anyone being judged.

The panel included the U of C's Dr. Bart Beaty, Dr. Michael Keren and Dr. Serra Tinic, as well as the University of California, Riverside department of media cultural studies chair.

These new forms of communication have the potential to allow people to communicate and exchange ideas across vast distances and political spheres. Experts in the field are trying to figure out what the impacts of they will have on society.

"It's very hard to tell what's going to happen," said Keren. "With every new technology like that, we tend to speculate about the future and say it's going to be more democratic, but we never know. We never predicted for example that the development of video is going to lead to video games so we don't know what the future is."

The topics discussed during the evening ranged from how corporate America was buying information from companies such as Facebook and MySpace to what people are deciding is cool and what isn't, to how bloggers living under oppressive regimes are organizing political demonstrations and how these same regimes are reading blogs in order to put down these very same protests.

A possible impact is youth voting rates and whether websites such as Facebook will help.

"Every new technology brings with it the possibility that it is going to increase [youth voting rates] but instead, we've seen it continue to decrease," said Beaty. "I think with every new technology there is a level of cynicism that tends to get associated with [it] that might mitigate against those kinds of things. At the same time, they are great for creating kinds of fads, so there are a small number of people in your Facebook community that might become interested or fascinated by the same thing."

Keren explained why he believes the the Facebook phenomenon might have a negative impact on voter turnout.

"It is a mobilizing tool mainly within the Internet, because these are people who are not coming here tonight, but they are people who are sitting at their keyboards," he said. "They can express enormous support but they do not necessarily have the social and economic base to development a commitment to go out and vote."