How have social media changed politics and the relation between politics and the public?
The emergence of social media has been huge – it now holds a prominent place in society, with seemingly everything having some form of involvement with social media. Whether it’s the ability to tweet your opinion of a TV programme under a show-specific hashtag or advertising campaigns actively encouraging engagement on social networks – the platform is huge.
Politics has not been immune to this change either. As social media seems to stamp more and more of its mark on the world by the day, politics has ended up being no exception to this.
Social media has changed a few notable things with regards to the relation between politics and the public. The first is that it has given politicians an easier platform to reach out to members of the public. However, this can either work out well for the politician – or very badly. David Cameron found more of the latter to be true when he posted this tweet at the time of Russia attacking Ukraine:
This prompted some responses that, it is fair to say, Cameron did not anticipate.
But David Cameron wasn’t the only one to make an ill-advised attempt to embrace Twitter users – George Osborne’s try at humour in the midst of a noisy Top Gear episode being filmed near Downing Street backfired as well.
Across the pond, some politicians are having slightly better luck with social media. However, not in the way you’d expect. Donald Trump, the man who is looking set to be the Republicans’ candidate in the upcoming 2016 election, was a big user of social media before running for office. This has benefited him as he is now utilising it to great effect as a platform to reach out to his band of followers and voters. Tweets are often frank and outspoken, not to mention controversial, but many of his followers lap it up and support for him seems to only strengthen (somewhat worryingly). An example being this tweet after a debate between Republicans striving to receive the nomination:
Tweets like this help boost Trump’s “honest” and “says it how it is” image which many buy in to and feel encouraged to vote for him. The fact it is on social media only helps to boost Trump’s reach as it is more easily available to a large amount of people. It is much more effective than just saying something at a debate, which has a much smaller reach than social media networks such as Twitter.
Another benefit of this platform is that politicians and political parties are able to gather feedback and get members of the public involved far easier. This can be done via polls or quizzes that are fed into social media and then shared by social media users. This can expand the party’s reach in terms of contacts, as it may take some personal details from the poll/quiz and use them when sending out messages or emails.
It also gives parties some numbers to help figure out support and find out where they stand in the public eye. However, like all polls, these cannot be taken as 100% reliable sources.
In all, social media presents a free, effective and widespread platform for politicians to both reach out to the public and put their message across. It can both strengthen support and reveal criticisms – much more easily than a mere TV appearance or public appearance.