The use of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube in politics has drastically changed the way political campaigns are run and how people interact with their elected officials. The use of social media has made elected candidates and officials more accessible and accountable to their voters. Parties and candidates are using social media to market themselves and create awareness while others are using it to attack their opponents to increase their chances of winning.
Each party creates its own social media pages that they can use to request for funds and spread propaganda. Candidates and their supporters can post their views on pertinent issues on Facebook or Twitter. Social media can publish content and broadcast the campaigns simultaneously to millions of viewers allowing candidates to manage their images.
Here are some of the ways social media is influencing politics today.
Demographics and targeting
Targeting is used in the advertising industry to ensure that messages and ads reach the targeted audience. Politicians do the same thing by targeting their campaigns on specific groups of people depending on their campaign agenda. A candidate can tailor their messages to address issues affecting college students, women, retirees, or a minority group of voters. The way marketers use analytics and target advertising on social media platforms to target their consumers, so do politicians and candidates.
Direct interaction with politicians
One of the positive things that social media has brought to politics is the fact that voters are now able to easily interact with their candidates and elected officials. In the past, if you wanted to meet a candidate or politician you would only see them at live events and that is from a distance. And since not everyone can attend these events, modern technology is now able to transport you to those live events virtually and you can participate through live streaming and interact with your candidates.
News around the clock
Social media has transformed politics because of the speed at which poll results, news, and rumors are shared. While today it’s easy to check out former congressman Steve Rothman’s website, when he was running for the House of Representatives some years back, you had to wait for the newspaper in the morning or watch the TV news to get the latest information. Today online news is 24/7 real-time happenings. With social media, you can access news at any time from any social media platform, but most people spend their time on the major social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube than on other websites that offer more serious news.
Power of confirmation bias
Confirmation bias is powerful especially when it comes to controversial topics like politics. Like most people on social media, most of your friends and followers share the same opinion on most issues. This means that the posts, tweets, or content you read on social media sites express the same opinion that you already have. So naturally, you will be more inclined to surround yourself with people with the same mindset both online and offline. On social media, this might seem like everyone has the same opinion. If most of your friends on Facebook agree on most of the political issues, then the information you receive will be filtered by this bias.
Social media can put more emphasis on your opinions making it difficult for you to entertain other different points of view. Politics makes people less tolerant of others who have diverse opinions than your own. However, you can use 50 likes to connect with more diverse people who have different points of view to overcome confirmation bias and make you more open-minded.
Increased voter turnouts
Using social media in political campaigns has increased voter turnouts by a huge margin. By using generated online content, reluctant voters are encouraged to cast their vote and a bigger percentage of the youth also turn out to vote. Politicians can also use the various social media platforms to gauge the reaction of the people which gives them an important insight into the lives of normal people. Posting content online helps the politicians get feedback on what the people want and they’re able to act accordingly. Celebrities are also used to reach a variety of people from minority groups to young voters. If used properly, social media can encourage debates which can be very informative and fruitful attracting a lot of expert opinions.
Spreads fake news, rumors, and conspiracies
Political campaigns are influenced by all kinds of news whether true or not, that is spread on social media. This makes it difficult to separate the real news from the fake news. Social media is flooded with rumors, memes, and links about political candidates mixed with truth, lies, speculation, and satire. There are fake news sites that troll readers who don’t do their own research or post clickbait stories. Other sites will post unsubstantiated conspiracy theories while others are politically biased. Your friends and followers may post information that can influence you with misinformation without intending to. It’s therefore important not to believe everything you read.
Advertising without paying
It has become a common thing for political candidates to produce TV commercials and have them running for free on YouTube instead of paying for the commercials to be aired on TV or radio. Other times journalists on the campaign trail can write about the commercials on YouTube. This gives them a wider coverage passing on the message to a larger audience at no cost to the politicians.
Requesting for voters for feedback can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how the politician responds. Most campaigns hire people to monitor their social media channels for any negative responses and remove any information that is unflattering, but this can make the campaign seem defensive or closed off from the public. A good campaign should interact and engage with the public irrespective of whether the feedback is positive or negative.
As political campaigns continue to use social media to raise awareness, it’s most likely that you will not get the full story and the informative news is left out. So it’s important you do your own research and learn more about a candidates’ policies, educate yourself, and stay aware.