In the grand landscape of media, the relatively new form of social media has become a game changer. Capturing the attention of Generation X and Millennials alike, with over 72% of all internet users now active on Facebook, Twitter and more, these channels provide a platform for all users to connect, over-share the details of their lives and voice their opinions.
In particular, social media has altered the way we contribute, receive and interact with political news.
Social media, an easily accessible and easy to follow public forum, allows the electorate and political figures to re-invigorate political campaigns and debates through the use of popular and engaging communication forms such as GIFs, memes, hashtags, video shorts, and quickly updated political news articles.
Social Sharing as News Curation
Sharing has emerged as a quick way of distributing news. A great example of this phenomenon occurred when millions across the world tweeted and retweeted minute-by-minute updates of the Ferguson protests using simple hashtags such as #Ferguson.
As of late August 2014, over 8 million Tweets and re-tweets mentioned #Ferguson (a low number compared to the millions of Tweets about the protests that didn’t feature the hashtag, #Ferguson).
In addition, Ferguson shows that social media has sped up the news cycle as Twitter posts related to the shooting appeared 2 days before traditional media outlets, such as MSNBC, CNN and Fox News, featured the story in their prime time coverage.
Gauge Political Allegiance through Social
Social media allows for real-time voter response. Click “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” or complete a quick survey on Facebook.
Comment on a Tweet or Instagram photo from a politician. With several different platforms, consitituents can immediately give politicians feedback hassle free.
Thanks to social media, political consumers can be increasingly select with the news they read. Depending on the political figure, party, news channels and more that a user follows or likes on social media, they may have a very restricted view of the political narrative.
This allows the public to intentionally seek and monitor political news that reinforces their political view point.
Obama’s Use of Social Media
Barack Obama is the best example of a politician using social platforms to promote a campaign and agenda.
His use of internet campaigning has been compared to the adoption of radio and television for past presidential nominees and he has been dubbed the “Digital Candidate.” In his 2008 election campaign, he used email and text messages to reach potential voters. Through his internet campaign, which had an estimated email list of 13 million, President Obama was able to raise roughly $500 million online.
For his re-election campaign in 2012, Obama used Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and podcasts to reach a more digitally savvy and younger audience. He currently has 53.2 million followers on Twitter and 44.4 million followers on Facebook.
2015 UK General Elections
In the lead up to the general elections in May, it will be interesting to monitor how political parties employ current social media tools to engage and influence their constituents? And how voters convey their civic sentiments through social media?
It will also be curious to note whether so many political organisations, political parties and individuals logging into social media, will dillute civil messages?
In 2010, the year of the last general elections, the UK saw a huge surge in social media usage and once the elections were over, the impact of social media and how it influenced voters was discussed heavily in all traditional media , including many political broadcasts. Yet in 2010, social platforms were still a new(ish) media form and traditional forms of media won out, with a great percentage of the country following debates on TV, reading their go-to newspaper and watching their favourite news channel. However, a great deal has changed in the social meida landscape since 2010 and 2015 will see a definite increase in its influence.
Courting Younger Voters
The use of social media in the upcoming general elections will specifically give younger political pundits an opportunity to engage in discussions, as they are more likely to read breaking news or receive updates on a campaign through social media.
Although, not all contributions from millennials are especially meaningful.
Instant Access to Voters
With the use of social media, political organisations and politicians have “direct” contact with their voters and the general public. They are able to promote campaign messages and share information relevant to their constituents, while also being aware of trending topics and news of the moment.
In the upcoming general elections, politicians running for office won’t be limited to a TV spot on a news channel or a limited amount of characters in a newspaper article, to convey a point. If they so choose, politicians and their parties can run a gambant of campaign messages 24/7 and be sure that their post or tweet will resonate with someone at any hour.
In addition, through social media, political organisations and politicians are able to be highly selective with what messages are sent to which voters. For example, through Facebook, it is simple to target audiences based on location, gender, age, education, relationship status, interests and more.
Yet, such a reliable and quick format of communication has opened political figures and their backers to scandals in recent years.
Who can forget Anthony Weiner’s mishap? Or our own Nick Clegg, who followed a few out of the ordinary individuals through his Twitter account. However, in Nick Clegg’s defense, it is highly unlikely that he himself moderates his social media accounts.
In need of a laugh or want to shake your head in embarrasment? Take a look at Mashable’s countdown of “Top 10 Biggest Twitter Blunders by UK Politicians.”