From Donald Trump putting upon his views on Twitter, all the way to algorithms affecting what stories certain people see, the role of social media post schedule’s impact is substantial and influential.
With technology shaping every aspect of our lives, it is only natural that it has started shaping the politics of our countries too.
In 2015 after the announcement of candidates; elections were the most talked about subject on Facebook in the U.S.
The internet’s reaction to the 2016 U.S. presidential election has been like no other, with the public creating entertaining content daily.
Reliance on social media for political news has increased rapidly.
In 2012, about two in five Americans reported using social media for political purposes, and about one in three said they had encountered messages on social media promoting one of the candidates in the months leading up to the election but what they may not realize is that the news they get is heavily filtered.
Even more concerning, there is growing evidence that many of the falsehoods circulating during the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election were part of a Russian propaganda effort.
The idea that a foreign power would use social media in an attempt to sow disinformation intended to sway an election is deeply troubling.
The role of social media during election campaigns has both pros and cons.
But the reality of the present day is that it may help in fostering misconceptions in the minds of voters and can be effectively manipulated to spread one’s propaganda is what makes it dangerous.
Impact of Social Media Polls
Political polls are an essential part of every campaign. They are often confusing because you can often find many polls with contradictory results posted on the very same day.
Political Polls widely influence voter perceptions, even if they are flawed.
When people are posting the latest poll results on social media throughout the day, there’s a great deal of pressure on candidates to pull ahead of their opponents.
A photograph is worth a thousand words, and images of political candidates especially convey emotions, actions, realism, and credibility.
However, photos that ridicule the opponents are also widely used by political candidates to influence the voters and more often these pictures convey a wrong image of the candidates.
Google Bombs and Twitter Bombs
The terms Google bombing and Google washing refer to the practice of causing a website to rank highly in search engine results for irrelevant, unrelated, or off-topic search terms by linking unnecessarily.
Twitter bombs were also widely used during the 2016 presidential elections. These twitter bombs used bots to send unsolicited replies to specific users via Twitter to get them to pay attention to one’s cause.
Nodes typically are networks that we are already familiar with.
These can be people, institutions, and ideas.
What propagandists try to do is that they create connections in these trust networks and hence tries to influence the public’s perception about the candidates for upcoming elections, thus help us decide on candidates of their choice.
Candidates of all political parties are nowadays trying to use social media to their advantage.
There is a positive aspect to it like faster and direct communication, fundraising, etc., but in light of these, the negative aspects cannot be ignored.
An effort should be made to reduce the spread of falsehood through the role of social media so that voters cannot be easily manipulated.
Social media is both a tool of oppression and empowerment, and it is upon the public, the media houses, the companies, the candidates, and the government to use it wisely.
Role of social media in shaping election campaigns
1. Social networks in politics
Before the role of social media marketing became omnipresent in politics, the candidates who stood in elections found it difficult to adopt strategies to create campaign goals and often chose one social media platform over the other.
This strategy for targeting people on social media first attracted the college-educated demographic. And as the use of social media escalated in society, a candidate’s participation in social media increased the engagement on his/her profiles. The kind of engagement that they indulge in defines their authenticity.
2. Personalization of politics
Through social media, candidates can develop their identity both as an individual and as the member of a group. This can be termed as hybrid forms of participation where the candidates influence people both personally and professionally. With the help of digitally networked activism, individual social networks perform the profound function of spreading information across multiple groups.
3. Networked nominee converted to networked nation
Cogburn and colleagues (2011) look specifically at the 2008 Obama presidential campaign to understand how the campaign turned online activism into real-life participation in terms of funding and voting. They used the power of their followers on social media to spread information and collect votes in their favor. Today, it is not just about how the candidates network themselves, it’s how they engage with the entire nation, both online and offline.
Astroturfing is the use of fake grassroots efforts that primarily focus on influencing public opinion and typically are funded by corporations and governmental entities to form opinions. On the internet, these people, known as astroturfers, use tools and softwares to mask their identity and stay anonymous. Often, one individual acts as different people to fake an impression of widespread support for their client’s agenda.
There are studies that show how astroturfing can alter public viewpoints and create enough doubt to constrain actions. Many countries have created laws that prohibit clearly observable astroturfing practices. Thus, it is very clear that social media can be effectively used by such people to modify the views of general public.
5. Involvement of college students
In 2013, Scholars Kushin and Yamamoto studied various traditional as well online mediums for spreading political messages. They found out that as traditional media has already moved to an online format, it is important to spread knowledge to the millennials as it is essential for successful political campaigning.
Social media enables users to experience politics at a more intimate interpersonal level and it is a great way to network with people and spread information.
6. More tweets, more votes
One great advantage of social media is that it helps you procure in-depth data about the clicks, engagement, likes, comments, shares, etc. received on your content. This data is useful for targeting people while running campaigns. It is also useful while creating content to be published on social media and other platforms.
The online buzz created on Twitter can be analyzed and used as an indicator of the behavior of voters, regardless of whether the tweets are positive or negative. It also helps in understanding how the new generation participates in politics and aids in curating messages for campaigns.
7. Personal disclosures of politicians
According to a study done by an organization in South Korea, when male and female candidates post about their private lives on social media, people react to it differently, and it also affects the intention of voters. On social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, when female candidates share their personal information, it often raised questions of sustainability and competence.
On the other hand, when male candidates share their personal information, it seems to make them more relatable to voters. A lot of work has to be put in to find out the biases towards candidates in real life and on social media.
8. Raking in the cash on Twitter
A study done by Yildirim measured support for a candidate based on donations from individual citizens and how it increased when the candidates opened their Facebook or Twitter accounts. Within the first month of using Twitter, politicians raised between 1-3% of what they would have raised in a two year of traditional campaign. However, this gain was almost for the newcomers, not incumbents. And it magnified when candidates included hyperlinks in tweets directing to more information.
9. Making political parties more human
The newcomers in political parties are somewhat technology savvy, and they are from a base of the younger generation. Such people have built a considerable fan-following on their social media accounts. Apart from communicating their political/policy views, social media plays a huge role in humanizing the candidates, which makes people feel more connected to them.
For example, Democratic presidential contender Pete Buttigieg showed his shelter dogs to his 2 million Twitter followers, which received an overwhelming response. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren did a live chat from her Instagram account to thank people who did contributions for her presential campaign.
As running political campaigns is becoming expensive and the requirement to reach out to people is becoming more important, social media is undoubtedly going to play a huge role in shaping people’s opinions and determining outcomes of elections, as it provides young candidates a platform to showcase themselves. In the coming times, we are sure to see a lot of political campaigns run on social media, as it is a low-cost and highly targeted form of communication.
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Debbie Moran is a Digital marketing strategist with 5+ years of experience producing advertising for brands and helping leaders showcase their brand to the correct audience. She has been a part of RecurPost since 2019 and handles all the activities required to grow our brand’s online presence.