Social news feeds has taken the centre stage in the emerging political dais. Political crusades across counties have witnessed a dramatic transformation with the rise of the social media platform. In developed countries like the US, the prevalence of social media has played a significant role in regulating greater accountability among the elected officials and public office candidates. Whether it is Twitter, Facebook or YouTube, social media is empowered with the ability to reach out to millions of people by promptly publishing content and broadcasting relevant information. This provides a compact plinth to run campaigns in order to often manage candidate’s portfolio and public image in real time and at minimal cost.
A recent study conducted by the Pew Research Centre exhibited that political discourse which takes place on social media could be changing the minds of several people who experience and participate in the process. The study points out that “one out of every five people who saw that angry rant or funny political meme you posted on Facebook just might have been convinced by it.” The survey piloted across almost 4500 Americans found that people who followed political content across social media mostly reacted negatively to it. Around 40% of respondents were found to describe themselves as “worn out” by political debates on popular sites like Facebook and Twitter, while 80% of respondents reported that they chose to ignore most of the political content they “disagreed” with.
Another 40% said that they preferred either blocking or filtering political content or fellow users who posted unwelcome political content on their feeds. Majority reported that they did so as they deciphered the content to be “offensive”. On the contrary, Pew’s research displayed that 20% of respondents admitted on how their perceptions were impacted regarding a political issue or a certain candidate after it was discussed on social media. The study exemplified how individuals changed their opinions on a variety of socially debatable topics and concerns whether on LGBTQ rights or Black Lives Matter movement. A corresponding facet of the research exclaimed that most respondents who said they shifted their views, did so based on specific sequence of events where they reportedly felt negative about a candidate who they earlier regarded positively.
There are quite a few people who prefer avoiding interactions on social media platforms or simply abandon it. However, the influential role that social media plays in our lives, directly or indirectly has several political implications and can’t be ignore altogether. For instance, Facebook with an active membership of nearly 1.8 billion has played a crucial role in sprouting and moderating political news. That’s a reason why the site’s automated newsfeed uses an algorithm (reinforcing users’ cultural echo chambers) where important news is often gets suppressed while insignificant news often get blown out of proportion.
Let’s see some of the ways in which technobots have influenced the political affairs of the state and how it has been used by both representatives and voters:
- Facelifting direct contact with voters: Social media tool allow politicians to communicate directly with a larger number of voters without spending any money on such campaigning as opposed to the traditional method of paid advertisement. For example, in a campaign advert on YouTube, former President Barack Obama said “I’m Barack Obama and I approve this message….”It’s a popular activity to run commercials for free on YouTube that covers a wider audience, instead of paying for a similar reach out on television or radio.
- Campaigns go viral: With likeminded voters and activists who exchange information on campaign events, Twitter and Facebook have become influential in organizing campaigns. The “share” function on Facebook and “retweet” feature of Twitter are broadly instrumental in dispensing news. Trump in his 2016 presidential campaign used Twitter enthusiastically stating, “I like it because I can get also my point of view out there, and my point of view is very important to a lot of people that are looking at me.”
- Adapting message to suit the audience: A political campaign or messages on the social media can be tailored to reach selected demographics. For instance, a campaign may be aligned towards drawing the youth’s attention more as compared to that of the senior citizens.
- As a fundraising tool: Facebook and Twitter has increasingly been used to raise large amounts of cash over a brief period of time. The concept of “money bombs” has been deployed where within a day’s time candidates press their supporters to donate money. Ron Paul, the Popular Libertarian who contested the presidential elections in 2008, conducted several successful “money bomb” fundraising campaigns.
- As a feedback mechanism: Depending on the how politicians respond, asking for feedback from constituents or voters has its pros and cons. Many campaigns employ people to monitor their social media channels for negative remarks and remove such responses. However, this attitude only closes parties from the public and modern campaigns seek to meaningfully engage people regardless of whatever feedback they receive.
- Allows for weighing public opinion: Social media platforms allow politicians to gauge how people are responding to a particular controversy or an issue. This helps is revamping their campaigns accordingly, without the need for hiring consultants or conducting expensive polling.
- Majority power: Petitions signed by a number of people bear a distinguished influence in policies and is a powerful tool. In the US, people have used social media tools to petition the government against special interests and powerful lobbyists.
This generation is all about active participation, deliberating pressure on government and elected bodies to accept all forms of civic engagement. However, political realities may not match the digital pace in many circumstances. A collective action coupled with sustained efforts could lay the foundation for political reforms as desired by the millennial generation. I also feel that while social media is a powerful podium changing the dynamics political engagement, neutral filtering becomes indispensible in restricting propagation of hatred in any form.
Article by Rochita.