HS Student’s Social-Media-Fueled Campaign Propels Him Into Local Office
Josh Lafazan, an 18-year-old high school senior from Syosset, New York, shattered all kinds of records when he was elected to his school district’s board last week. He became the youngest-ever elected official in New York state, and voter turnout was well above normal.
How did Lafazan make such an achievement possible? In part, thanks to smart use of the web and social media.
While many commentators are marveling at the Internet’s ability to bring together large swaths of people from across nations, Lafazan’s campaign did just the opposite: he used his website and social media, such as Facebook and live video service Spreecast, to bring together his nearby friends and neighbors under his campaign’s banner.
“Josh was the only candidate for school board to have a personal website,” said Jake Asman, Lafazan’s campaign manager and fellow Syosset High School student. “He really went out there and expressed his campaign views. He used his Facebook page and Spreecast the same way.”
On Spreecast, Lafazan engaged in face-to-face town halls with his soon-to-be constituency. Asman credits the video site with a great deal of the campaign’s success.
“Spreecast was a big one for us,” said Asman. “We had more than 2,000 views on our first Spreecast. Josh was able to interact directly, face-to-face with members of the community. It’s one thing to have a story on [the local news], it’s another for people to ask questions directly. He answered every question he got, it took almost two hours.”
Lafazan also built up a sizable community of followers on Facebook. A note he posted thanking his supporters gathered more than 400 likes — an impressive feat for a candidate in a campaign with only a few thousand voters.
Social media proved useful when the campaign took a turn for the bizarre. The Syosset school district accused Lafazan’s father, Jeffery, of stealing information about the district’s residents. An automated message that went out to voters before the election said that “Jeffrey Lafazan unlawfully removed district records that contained the names and addresses of residents. He removed the records without permission and ran away,” according to NBC.
Lafazan’s father later returned the documents, saying he didn’t know he wasn’t allowed to take them.
Lafazan, meanwhile, labeled the accusations as a “smear campaign.” He took to Facebook to explain his side of what happened, and Asman said that move helped Lafazan beat the rumors.
“When the school district tried to pull their smear campaign, Josh hopped on Facebook and sent out a status with what had really happened,” said Asman. “It got 250 likes and 200 shares. People very quickly realized what was happening.”
Of course, Lafazan campaigned hard in the offline world, too.
“He was in the community and the high school every day, interacting with neighbors and other seniors that were 18 and could vote,” said Asman.
Lafazan went on to win the election by more than 2,000 votes, or 82% of the total votes — and it looks like he’ll be using social media to govern, not just to campaign.
“If anyone has any suggestions to help improve this district,” wrote Lafazan in a post-victory Facebook post, “do not hesitate to contact me and share those ideas with me.”
How is social media changing local elections in your neighborhood? Let us know in the comments.