Social Media and Politics

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Andrew Oliver
  Staff Writer 

In politics, particularly in presidential elections, it is important to recognize the way new or emerging technologies are utilized, if at all. Much fuss was made about Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s use of the radio, as well as Eisenhower and Kennedy’s use of television to augment their successful campaigns, leading to successful victories and presidencies, aided by modern technology.

When Barack Obama scored his landmark victory in 2008, many attributed it, at least partially, to his adept utilization of social media, and all it entails, taking to Facebook, YouTube, and Tumblr, among other sites, to spread his message of change and political prosperity after years of economic recession.

Now, social media seems impossible to be divorced from politics, as politicians realize more and more that citizens are dependent on social media for their news and information. According to the Pew Research Center, 50 percent of citizens aged 18-29 get their news exclusively from online sources. For citizens aged 30-49, this number is still 49 percent.

Given these massive numbers, huge demographics that get their news online and nowhere else, the political scene, and the strategies therein had to evolve to accommodate this newfound access to news in the internet age.

We have seen this reach what some would say a reasonable, perhaps unfortunate, conclusion in the phenomena that is Donald Trump, who has taken to Twitter to address citizens directly. While many of his Tweets are certainly from Trump’s staff, there are many coming from the man himself, who can often be seen tweeting from his phone to his constituents and other American citizens.

This is almost revolutionary in populist politics, as it cuts out any middle ground from communicating with the American populace. As long as you have access to Twitter, you have access to Donald Trump, and not just from his technical staff.

This has had a profound effect on the current political climate. Other politicians will surely feel an increasing need to take to social media platforms themselves, as they note the obvious success that Trump has had in using it – he did win the election, after all.

It also represents an ever-forward shift, signifying a time when politicians can be in the most direct contact with all citizens. In theory, one could consider this an increase in Democracy, but seeing that the communication will likely be one-way, at least with President Trump, I’m less than convinced that this is the case.

However, with local politicians, this could really be something special. Imagine being able to communicate with city councilors without having to attend meetings in person. It could potentially make the political process of these local governments much more transparent, which would, in turn, inspire citizens to become more involved. When people understand the way something works, they’re much more likely to want to get involved in that system.

The political mainstream aren’t the only ones to utilize this technology either. Kshama Sawant, the socialist city councilmember from Seattle, Washington and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein recently held a massive video conference on FaceBook, live for others to take part in and contribute to the conversation.

Using social media to augment social movements is nothing new, of course, but as the technology becomes more advanced, and people become more technically literate in the usage of social media, we’re going to be seeing it a lot more, and used a lot more effectively.

Unfortunately, these platforms do not filter for honesty, and, as in the case with this past election, false information and fake news find safe homes in Facebook and other similar sites. Politicians can use this to their advantage, propagating fake news and false information to followers and independent voters who are looking for confirmation, or information that they did not previously know about.

It can be hard to fact-check every article one finds on the internet, and even more difficult to wade through the endless sea of news and information that we’re bombarded with through social media. Politicians will surely take advantage of that.

That’s why one of the biggest impacts of social media in regards to politics is that it will require the electorate to be even more vigilant, even more scrutinous, as we examine the words of our leaders, and those who wish to become our leaders.

This presents a challenge, and the beginning of a bittersweet era, as we are closer to our politicians than ever, but perhaps further from the truth. For an population that is bogged down with hard work for little pay and poor quality of living overall, it can be difficult to take the time to make sure information is true.

It is still worth trying, however, and we must make our voices heard to keep our leaders accountable for their actions. When Donald Trump, or anyone else for that matter, posts something on social media, don’t take it at face value. It’s an unfortunate fact of life that they have more to gain from tricking you than they have from telling the truth.


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