Evidence suggests that media influences political opinion. For instance, CBS’ coverage of the 1960 US Presidential election debate dominated the entire contest’s narrative. It handed the oval office to John F. Kennedy, who positioned himself as the face of hope and change to the US electorate via media.
In 2016, national and local news sources can disseminate their political reports online. These outlets are seen as trusted sources of information and therefore rank highly on search engines such as Google. A study carried out by Chitika shows that the first page of a Google search attracts 92% of search traffic, suggesting that media political content racks up views from an online electorate that is now flocking to digital platforms to inform voting choices. It is now vital that politicians attract positive media attention, so they can cultivate a solid reputation online.
Social media and politics
Politicians need to present themselves prominently on social media so they can communicate directly with their electorates and position themselves as a candidate voters can trust. If a politician’s social media campaign picks up steam on social media, it may go viral, gaining further media attention generating positive content.
But in politics, social media can serve as a double-edged sword. Discussing the modern culture of “turbulent politics,” Open Democracy writes: “At the root of the new turbulent politics is the sharing of social information [which]… can make mobilisation more demotic and at the same time more volatile. In other, words, it is as easy to turn potential voters against you on social media as it is to drum up support for a political campaign.
Failing to engage
There are no shortage of politicians getting it wrong on social media. Just look at the upcoming Australian election, where Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull faces a challenge from Labor Party leader Bill Shorten. Looking to appeal to ordinary people, Turnbull has posted a number of selfies showing himself using public transport on social media and is tweeting regularly.
Commenting to ABC News, University of Melbourne politics professor Andrea Carson argued that this shows that “he’s got a knowledge of how to use these platforms.” She suggested that Turnbull is using them to actually engage with voters. Shorten and other politicians are taking a broadcast attitude to social media, pushing out messages rather than engaging with voters. Carson said that Turnbull is beating Shorten in the social media stakes, amassing more followers.
Social media firestorm
It’s so easy to provoke an avalanche of negative commentary on social media, even for content posted years ago. Just ask Labour MP for Bradford West, Naz Shah. She was recently suspended from the Labour Party for posting content which many critics have labelled anti-Semitic to Facebook roughly two years before she was elected. Mounting press reports of the incident caused such a torrent of public outrage that Party leader Jeremy Corbyn removed the party whip from the Bradford West MP.
Shah’s actions have also damaged the public profile of the Labour Party. The Guardian writes that due to this scandal, Corbyn launched an independent review of antisemitism in the Labour Party. He was forced to suspend three councillors, after it emerged that they too had posted anti-Semitic content to social media. This generated significant negative online press attention at the worst possible time for Labour; a few days before UK voters went to the polls in local council elections.
Creating memorable campaigns
On the other hand, the UK Green Party has mastered the art of engaging with voters. In collaboration with ad agency Creature of London, the Greens shot a campaign video depicting political leaders as squabbling children, capitalising on voter disenfranchise with mainstream politics. In just 24 hours, the video attracted almost 500,000 views across the party’s YouTube, Facebook and Twitter accounts. A Labour video, posted a day earlier, amassed just shy of 20,000 views on Facebook and YouTube.
Commenting, Creature Managing Director Dan Shute said: “The Greens don’t have the budget of a big brand or of the bigger political parties and have a desire to be different and do things differently… We wanted to create something memorable that people would talk about and love, and trust me once we had the concept it was certainly not difficult to find material given the state of UK politics.”
Achieving political success
Attention on social media can translate into political success. Look at US Senator for Vermont Bernie Sanders, who is currently competing against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination in the 2016 US Presidential election. Going into the competition, she had considerably higher name recognition, allowing her to trounce Sanders in public opinion polls.
However Sanders has developed an economically-liberal platform which appeals to digitally-savvy younger voters, who flocked to social media to promote his campaign to the wider electorate. This has spawned the popular hashtag #FeelTheBern, allowing Bernie to spread his message on Twitter and other social media networks. Once a relative political unknown, Sanders has now become a real contender to Clinton, showing how beneficial social media can be to political candidates.
Speaking with voters
Increasingly, politicians are marketing themselves to electorates via social media to varying degrees of success. Some politicians treat social media as if it were broadcast media, speaking at, rather than to voters. Others however use social media to successfully engage with voters, illustrating that they care about the same issues. With social media, talented politicians can market themselves to their electorates more easily than ever before, generating the attention needed to build a strong reputation online.