As well as giving politicians a platform to reach out to the public, social media presents a good opportunity for the public to reach out to politicians, as well as getting their views across.
Facebook users can post statuses to friends, Twitter users can post tweets to followers and the public, even Instagrammers can put up a picture – all networks are opportunities for any old average Joe to put their opinion out there.
For the May 2015 general election, Facebook users in the UK were encouraged by the site to share the fact they were going to vote/had voted via an internal mechanism that Facebook had created. What could make you want to vote more than good old Kathleen from secondary school expressing that she had just popped down the road to put her paper in the ballot box? Some may even view it as a great opportunity to get a few likes.
FACEBOOK: The election feature implemented for users in the UK who voted in the general election.
Twitter offers an easy opportunity to contact politicians. In particular, local politicians – from backbench MPs to councillors – are very active on the network. Often you will find them dealing with problems and questions as they would in constituency meetings.
However, the higher level of accessibility to the public can backfire. Sometimes in the form of a tweet, or an old Facebook status, the already high levels of scrutiny intensify further, leading to more hiccups, slip-ups and outspoken behaviour emerging – while the public have even more of a platform to express their outrage.
A recent example is that of Naz Shah MP, who was suspended from the Labour party after she was found to have shared an anti-Semitic post on her Facebook account in 2014. Social media users found this, shared it expressing their disgust, before news organisations and politicians picked up on it. Pressure built up and the party were forced to suspend her.
SHAMED: Naz Shah MP was suspended following controversial social media posts.
Videos and pictures, found and reposted on social media, can often be the source of such scandals as well.
Political programmes, such as Question Time, will often encourage viewers to tweet their thoughts on the show with a specific hashtag. This helps to engage more people and build a network within a network, giving viewers an opportunity to get their views across and join in the conversation. Quite often this will get more people to watch the show and interact – giving a much a bigger audience than before. The fear of missing out is truly real.
ENGAGING: Question Time frequently involves high numbers of people in discussions on social media.
Social media has been a force for change in many respects – politics being one of them. Both politicians and the public now have a great means of communication that they can easily utilise. Politicians to reach out, express their views, gather opinions and data and so on; the public to engage with politicians and one another, get their thoughts across and find out more about politics in general. The impact has been colossal and changes will continue to be seen over the years, while social media still goes strong.
For now though, let’s belatedly mark a day and occasion that only could have come about through the medium of social media: Ed Balls Day. Yes, it is now five years and two days since 28th April 2011 – the day Ed Balls tweeted nothing but his own name.
The tweet has now been retweeted tens of thousands of times and #EdBallsDay tends to trend constantly throughout the day every 28th April. Media and commercial coverage only gets bigger by the year.
It is alleged that the tweet was created due to Balls trying to search his own name into social media in order to try and find articles and opinions about himself. But much like the question of what killed the dinosaurs, the truth of this may never be answered.