In the past, Americans watched the presidential debates and heard the TV and newspaper commentary afterward. In 2012, however, the setup changed. This year, instead of watching the debates, citizens read live, moment-to-moment commentary on the event via Twitter, the social networking site.

In 140 characters or less, users of Twitter (over 500 million worldwide) can tweet about anything and everything, including how the presidential candidates were performing in the debates. People could watch the debate on television while simultaneously tweeting about it from their laptops.

From my perspective as a college student, easy access to political news through social networking sites has both positive and negative aspects. Being able to see my friends' tweets about the debates as they happen gave me entirely new insights into some of the topics being discussed.

On the other hand, I have heard many of my classmates say that they are basing their political opinions solely on what they read on Twitter. As far as I can tell, these classmates have not watched the debates and are relying on the information tweeted by people they follow online. I even heard someone say he didn't need to watch the debates himself because he got all the information he needed from Twitter.

It is often said that young people like myself should become more involved in politics and vote so that our voices can be heard. But what if our voices are being influenced or manipulated by social networking sites? How many votes cast for president were based solely on information that people read on Twitter?

We have entered into an entirely new age, where social media plays a much more influential role than we often realize.

Erin M. Giles, Westminster

The writer is a sophomore at McDaniel College.