The women bridging tech and politics in the 2016 election

Updated

In the 2012 presidential election, Twitter was the gold standard for being digitally savvy, playing a huge role in how the public – particularly millennials – viewed the candidates. The social media platform set the tone for debates, speeches and the party conventions. At the time, the 2012 election cycle broke Twitter records: with Election Day being the most tweeted event in U.S. history. 

But just a few years, and countless social apps and websites, later, there’s more to being on the digital upswing than crafting a 140-character tweet – and declared and potential 2016 candidates will need to broaden their range if they want to make a splash in this election. 

These eight women leading the digital-meets-political landscape are advising candidates on how they can maximize their outreach on digital, whether it be on platforms like Facebook, Snapchat and YikYak - or through fundraising and building networks.

Katie Harbath, the Global Politics and Government Outreach manager at Facebook, shared with msnbc how her team has helped shaped elections on social media, and what it’s like being a woman working in fields dominated by men.

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Courtesy of Katie Harbath
msnbc: Are there specific candidates your team is focused on? Has the political engagement team at Facebook grown in recent years in anticipation of the presidential election?

Katie Harbath: My team helps candidates, political parties, elected officials and governments around the globe use Facebook effectively to engage with people in those countries. The Politics and Government Outreach team has grown from three to seven in the last two years. We are globally focused and have worked extensively, for example, on elections in the UK this year, as well as the 2014 elections in India, Brazil, Indonesia and the U.S. 

msnbc: What is the biggest benefit of using Facebook on a campaign trail? 

KH: For a campaign, the biggest benefit to using Facebook is the ability to reach voters – in a place where they are already spending time – with the messages that will motivate them.

msnbc: What’s the worst thing a candidate can do on the platform?

KH: The most successful candidates are the ones who engage with and listen to their fans, rather than using the platform as a one-way communication tool.

msnbc: Do you think Facebook can impact the results of the 2016 election through its outreach, not just with the candidates, but by influencing people to get out and vote?

KH: We believe encouraging civic participation is an important contribution Facebook can make. Since the 2008 election in the United States, we’ve shown people on Facebook who are over 18 a message at the top of their News Feed reminding them that it’s Election Day and encouraging them to share with their friends that they’ve voted. A 2012 study by the journal Nature found that the megaphone has a real social multiplier effect and that in 2010, 340,000 additional people turned out at the polls after they saw on Facebook that friends had voted. In 2014, the megaphone was deployed in international elections for the first time. 

msnbc: What challenges do you face as a woman leader in the digital and political world, both of which are dominated by men?

“With Facebook the campaign can reach the right people with the right message at the right time”
Katie Harbath
KH: My entire career, I’ve been fortunate to work with and for some amazing people – both men and women – who have been mentors and given me the space to be innovative. The biggest challenge with there not being as many women in politics – especially in Republican politics – is that the perspective we offer on various issues may not be heard.

Here at Facebook, we know that racial and gender diversity can be a driver of business success, as well as increased team collaboration and commitment. That should give us all an incentive to be more diverse. 

msnbc: As someone who’s had a digital impact on multiple campaigns, do you see 2016 as a game-changer? With so many more social media options out there, is there a singular focus you think Facebook should be used for?

KH: One of the key things about Facebook is that it can be used to amplify all the offline activities of a campaign, whether it’s paid media, organizing, persuasion, or fundraising. Successful campaigns incorporate Facebook into the overall campaign strategy because with Facebook the campaign can reach the right people with the right message at the right time.

That said, given how fast digital technologies and strategies evolve, I think every election has elements that are groundbreaking and 2016 will be no different. At the start of the 2012 campaign Facebook didn’t have mobile ads, yet by the time Election Day arrived many campaigns were using them. The growth of video on Facebook is something to watch in this upcoming election. After all, there are now four billion views a day on the platform. 

Follow Katie Harbath on Twitter and check out the rest of the featured women here!

Women in Politics and Women Leaders - Tech Meets Politics

The women bridging tech and politics in the 2016 election

Updated