New Media simulates election scandals

Flyer for the fake student body elections.

Flyer for the fake student body elections.

Dr. Sarah Vartabedian’s New Media class has, over the course of the semester, been working on a project utilizing social media. The class, split into seven groups, has been tasked with creating fictional candidates for the WTAMU Student Body President to be voted on in a mock election on Nov. 25.

“It’s my first time teaching New Media,” said Vartabedian, “so I thought ‘let’s do something experimental’.”

While the students are bound by the somewhat fluid rules of the project, the central commandment is a restriction to only use social media for the promotion of their group’s candidate. Each has a Facebook page and Twitter feed, replete with background qualifications, affiliations with student organizations, academic achievements and standings and where they came from, all fabricated and filled in by their student creators. The candidate’s pages features posts drumming up excitement and support for their cause, pictures of the candidates participating in events, and several inspirational quotes.

“The students keep coming up with creative ways to break the rules,” said Dr. Vartabedian.

The project, while an exercise in politics and public relations, is designed to show students the capabilities, advantages and dangers of the Internet.

“My hope is to recognize the implications of a new digital world,” said Dr. Vartabedian. “Social media is equalizing access to democracy, but the flipside of that is the time and effort spent managing your online persona.”

Each of the class’ groups will soon be tasked with handling a social media crisis, some form of dirt brought to light to create a scandal, giving the students an opportunity to practice crisis communication skills and demonstrate how hostile the environment of social media can be. They may exploit the controversy affecting their opponents for their advantage.

“I have a feeling they’ll play dirty,” said Dr. Vartabedian.

Social media’s rising importance must be imparted to students, according to Dr. Vartabedian.

“I think for sure it’s an interesting paradox,” she said.  “Your generation [is] so computer savvy but are exposing so much more on social media that could come back to haunt them.”

Dr. Vartabedian even suggested teaching social media classes to students much younger than college level.

“I’d love to see classes on social media taught in high school, even middle school,” she said. “We should do it younger.”