Earlier this year, when the first earthquake in decades hit the DC metro area, it took about 20 seconds for news about the earthquake to spread from coast to coast.

Through the use of social media, information travels faster than ever before and more and more organizations, politicians, communities and people are turning to Twitter and Facebook to communicate their messages.

Twitter users are sending an average of 200 million Tweets per day.

With less than a year before the 2012 elections and social media providing immediate ways to communicate messages and encourage participation, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies held a non partisan Social Media Use in the 2012 Elections discussion at Howard University as a call to action to young people to get informed, engaged, and register to vote.

Moderated by Jeff Johnson, President & CEO of Jeff’s Nation, a panel of experts from NAACP, Voto Latino, BET Network, Politic365, Twitter, The Raben Group, the Democratic National Committee, the National Action Network, the Ghatt Law Group, LLC and the Hip Hop Caucus discussed how ethnic communities have used Facebook and Twitter to mobilize.

“As long as young people feel connected to these tools, they will take action,’’ said Marie “Free” Wright, former host of BET’s “106 & Park” and current co-host of nationally syndicated “In the Den with Big Tigger” morning show.

The biggest challenge of politics; can I have your vote? With technology, this question can now be asked on the ground and online to communities that are coming afloat through social media.

“African Americans in particular are over-represented on sites like Twitter,” said political commentator Jamal Simmons of The Raben Group. Jeneba Ghatt, Managing Partner and Founder, The Ghatt Law Group, LLC uses her social media sites to feed information about politics to family and friends.

And in 2012, Latino youth came out in record numbers, said Kristal High, Editor-in-Chief of Politic365.

DREAM Act activists in particular utilized social media effectively to send messages in support of the legislation last year, to promote an end to student deportations and mobilize immigration supporters. “There is ownership of the issue from the ground up,” said Jessica Reeves, Marketing and Partnership Manager with Voto Latino, a non partisan voter engagement organization

In engaging youth, “the big part of it is making sure young people are taking ownership,” she added.

One important thing to remember is that “Twitter can be a positive tool to supplement your engagement, interest. Not a replacement for other streams of info. 140 characters can't convey your whole message, but it can be a launching pad to engage young people with your issues,” said Adam Sharp, Manager of Government & Politics at Twitter.

“If you are not directing people to an action, the message is getting lost,” said Stefanie Brown, National Field Director of the NAACP, who urged students in the audience to connect with those outside their immediate friendship circles and comfort zones “so that you are just not following people who think like you.”

Reeves reminded the students at Howard University that Facebook and Twitter are tools, not just entry points. “It is a way to make you aware about the issues.”