Social Media -What’s in it for Politicians?

These Blogs are for a University of Malta Assignment.

At the turn of the century people spent not more than 6 hours a month using online networks. Nowadays this is closer to 2 and a half hours a day. Social media is unquestionably becoming more popular — if not addictable and the range of users spans most age groups.

Social media provides information on practically everything. Consequently, who provides the information, who controls it, who consumes it and how it is distributed form part of how pirates and candidates try to forward their image and thoughts to consumers. What started as a means of normal communication between various people was exploited by the business community to serve as a means for commerce. However, such a marketing approach was also considered plausible for politicians to use social media for their own type of commerce or rather political gain. (Gainous J. & Wagner K.M., 2014)

Very simply politicians reasoned out that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Infiltrating the networks of communication, politicians went further over the norms of traditional media and expanded the use of social media for their political gain. Given that the popularity of leading social media is unquestionable, additional coverage for politicians through social media created more exposure and developed a new political environment for interaction with consumers.

The adoption of social media by politicians has created a new political landscape. Just as fast as billboards and posters are disappearing, adverts on social media are proliferating. However, in the nature of politicians to exploit every issue to gain extra points over their rivals, this has led to different tweakings to try and align the perceptions of the people to their train of thought. And it does not simply stop with a digital strategy to advertise. Campaigns on the mass media have become subtle and persistent and through the possibility for readers to pass their comments on different media, either through personal replies, that of supporters, political fanatics or even political trolls, they are able adapt and create material to deceive and confuse the public when so deemed expedient.

Truth or variations of the truth are particularly common before an election but such interference may not necessarily occur at a national level as quite often. Especially for the U.S. elections, various accusations were levied against Russia for their interference through various posts and depictions of public figures. Effectively, an honest political information campaign would have to contend with an untruthful or dishonest campaign intended to confuse and deceive the public.

Just as there are scrupulous and honest people, there could be unscrupulous and opportunistic persons. The same can be said to apply to politicians and consequently actions taken by social media to control unfair leverage would be in everybody’s interest.

A classical example of misuse of the media has resulted in Facebook banning the former president of the United States of America for at least a 2 year period. But spats do not only occur at leadership level. They persist at every political level, including ministers, party officials and supporters. On the other hand, there are also individuals who delight in bating, pranking and hoaxing the political class. Further to the expression of these more “liberated” people, there is also the role of influencers. Whilst on social media and commerce networks the popularity of these people is used to promote particular brands, a parallel approach can be adopted to use such influencers to back particular beliefs so as to gain the trust and support of the people who follow them.

The phrase “Lies, damned lies, and statistics” indicates how numbers can be used in statistics to support weak arguments. Similarly, politicians can interpret events to suit their intentions without providing any reliability of their data or validity of results and this would help them convey their version of the facts on a chosen topic. It will all boil down to whether people are gullible about half-truths or whether they are aware that ultimately they are the ones who are being conned and just like one particular platform might provide a particular story or version of it, another platform might go in a totally different direction and in this respect having different information providers in a way adds to the plurality of social media providers and could in the long run lead to a more discerning audience that responds to political communications on the digital media. — Effectively, the development of digital democracy.

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