Social Media and Politics is a podcast bringing you innovative, first-hand insights into how social media is changing the political game. Subscribe for interviews and analysis with politicians, academics, and leading industry experts to get their take on how social media influences the ways we engage with politics and democracy.There is no doubt that social media has brought change to politics. From the waves of protest and unrest in response to the 2008 financial crisis, to the Arab spring of 2011, there has been a generalized feeling that political mobilization is on the rise, and that social media had something to do with it.
Our book investigating the relationship between social media and collective action, Political Turbulence, focuses on how social media allows new, “tiny acts” of political participation (liking, tweeting, viewing, following, signing petitions and so on), which turn social movement theory around. Rather than identifying with issues, forming collective identity and then acting to support the interests of that identity – or voting for a political party that supports it – in a social media world, people act first, and think about it, or identify with others later, if at all. These tiny acts of participation can scale up to large-scale mobilizations, such as demonstrations, protests or campaigns for policy change. But they almost always don’t. The overwhelming majority (99.99%) of petitions to the UK or US governments fail to get the 100,000 signatures required for a parliamentary debate (UK) or an official response (US).
The very few that succeed do so very quickly on a massive scale (petitions challenging the Brexit and Trump votes immediately shot above 4 million signatures, to become the largest petitions in history), but without the normal organizational or institutional trappings of a social or political movement, such as leaders or political parties – the reason why so many of the Arab Spring revolutions proved disappointing.
01. Free Advertising
Social media tools including Facebook, Twitter and Youtube allow politicians to speak directly to voters without spending a dime. Using those social media allows politicians to circumvent the traditional method of reaching voters through paid advertising or earned media.
2. Advertising Without Paying For Advertising
It has become fairly common for political campaigns to produce commercials and publish them for free on YouTube instead of, or in addition to, paying for time on television or the radio.
Often times, journalists covering campaigns will write about those YouTube ads, essentially broadcasting their message to a wider audience at no cost to the politicians.
03. How Campaigns Go Viral
Twitter and Facebook have become instrumental in organizing campaigns. They allow like-minded voters and activists to easily share news and information such as campaign events with each other. That’s what the “Share” function on Facebook and “retweet” feature of Twitter are for.
Donald Trump used Twitter heavily in his 2016 presidential campaign. “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,” Trump said.
04. Tailoring the Message to the Audience
Political campaigns can tap into a wealth of information or analytics about the people who are following them on social media, and customize their messages based on selected demographics. In other words, a campaign may find one message appropriate for voters under 30 years old will not be as effective with over 60 years old.
Some campaigns have used so-called “money bombs” to raise large amounts of cash in short period of time. Money bombs are typically 24-hour periods in which candidates press their supporters to donate money. They use social media such as Twitter and Facebook to get the word out, and often tie these money bombs to specific controversies that emerge during campaigns.
The popular libertarian Ron Paul, who ran for president in 2008, is orchestrated some of the most successful money bomb fundraising campaigns.
Direct access to voters also has its down sides. Handlers and public-relations professionals often manage a candidate’s image, and for good reason: Allowing a politician to send out unfiltered tweets or Facebook posts has landed many a candidate in hot water or in embarrassing situations. See Anthony Weiner.
Asking for feedback from voters or constituents can be a good thing. And it can be a very bad thing, depending on how politicians respond. Many campaigns hire staffers to monitor their social media channels for negative response and scrub anything unflattering. But such a bunker-like mentality can make a campaign appear defensive and closed off from the public. Well run modern day campaigns will engage the public regardless of whether their feedback is negative or positive.
08. Weighing Public Opinion
The value of social media is in its immediacy. Politicians and campaign do absolutely nothing without first knowing how their policy statements or moves will play among the electorate, and Twitter and Facebook both allow them to instantaneously gauge how the public is responding to an issue or controversy. Politicians can then adjust their campaigns accordingly, in real time, without the use of high-priced consultants or expensive polling.
09. It’s Hip
One reason social media is effective is that it engages younger voters. Typically, older Americans tend to make up the largest portion of voters who actually go to the polls. But Twitter and Facebook have energized younger voters, which has had a profound impact on elections. President Barack Obama was the first politician to tap into the power of social media during his two successful campaigns.
Social media tools have allowed Americans to easily join together to petition the government and their elected officials, leveraging their numbers against the influence of powerful lobbyists and monied special interests. Make no mistake, lobbyists and special interest still have the upper hand, but the day will come when the power of social media allows like-minded citizens to join together in ways that will be just as powerful. The main events in a political campaign used to happen in the open: a debate, the release of a major TV ad or a public event where candidates tried to earn a spot on the evening news or the next day’s front page.
11. Reputation building
Reputation building is most essential part of social media. As for example we can guess that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been done via Apco Worldwide which is a land mark for other political leaders around the world.
That was before the explosion of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as political platforms. Now some of a campaign’s most pivotal efforts happen in the often-murky world of social media, where ads can be targeted to ever-narrower slices of the electorate and run continuously with no disclosure of who is paying for them. Reporters cannot easily discern what voters are seeing, and hoaxes and forgeries spread instantaneously.A study released this past week found that false information spreads faster and wider on Twitter than real news stories. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology traced the path of more than 126,000 stories on Twitter and found that the average false story takes about 10 hours to reach 1,500 users compared with about 60 hours for real ones. On average, false information reaches 35 percent more people than true news.Google and Facebook have shared some fragmentary information with the Seattle commission, and through them Sanders is getting his own window into the online political marketplace. One outside group that supported the candidate who won the mayoral election, Jenny A. Durkan, spent $20,000 on one ad on a Google platform that the company displayed between 1 million and 5 million times.