SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – Social media are a “game changer” when it comes to young people getting involved in government, South Orange village President Alex Torpey told a group of Seton Hall University students.

Torpey spoke Monday to a class of journalism and public relations students studying social media. He focused on the role social media play in politics and government.

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When running for office in 2011, Torpey said, he discovered that social media are an inexpensive way for candidates to get the message out.

“This is a real serious game changer because it allows someone younger without collected wealth or political connections to be able to run,” Torpey said.

Social media aren’t just for campaigns, Torpey said. Government can use popular sites such as Facebook and Twitter for day-to-day communication and when there is an emergency.

“Here in town where we had power outages for two weeks, people didn’t know where to get information,” Torpey said. “Those people were able, though, to charge their phones at work (and access information). Most people use smartphones as primary means of internet access.”

Torpey also talked about how social media and technology are changing the ways people interact. He said people no longer interact as much with people who have differing positions.

“When you look at places like legislatures, you see people working together, theoretically working toward similar goals, but they are having difficulty doing that,” Torpey said.

He also noted that laws, such as open meetings rules, need to be changed to reflect technological advances. He gave the example that under current regulations, four members of the Board of Trustees cannot add comments to the same Facebook post without it being considered a meeting, and therefore a violation of the law.

At the end of his presentation, Torpey fielded questions from students. Most asked about how he has used social media as president of the village and how he balances his use of Twitter between his personal and professional life.

“I put myself out there as an individual as well as a politician,” Torpey said. “People want to follow you because they … want a person telling them what is going on.”

The students are enrolled in Social Media in Journalism and Public Relations, taught by Dr. Kyle Heim of the department of communication and the arts.

The reporter is a student participating in hyperlocal journalism partnership between The Alternative Press and Seton Hall University's Department of Communication & The Arts.