Published on October 23, 2018, at 10:45 a.m.
by Reagin Edwards.
We live in a time when everything is shared on social media. More than 10 years ago, Twitter started making its debut, Snapchat didn’t even exist, and Instagram became merely a thought inside its founders’ heads. Little did we know, social media would become the tool by which we live our lives.
In our politically centered country, we hear about something happening with our government at least daily. And where do you usually hear those things? Through social media. As the years have gone by, we see more and more interaction on social media by politicians everywhere. It has become the “new norm” for most politicians to conduct civic interaction on their personal and professional social media accounts. The use of Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube has dramatically changed the way we view politics.
Engaging the people
Social media has been used by politicians to speak directly to constituents since its inception. Although President Trump may be the most popular president to ever use Twitter, it’s actually President Barack Obama who had the first @POTUS Twitter account.
President Obama conducted the first-ever, live “Twitter town hall” in 2011. It became a trial-and-error-type event; people asked Obama questions through Twitter, and he answered them verbally, all while trying to keep the responses under 140 characters. A couple of his responses exceeded 140 characters, but he gained brownie points for being active on the medium. A SproutSocial article noted in 2011, “The Barack Obama Facebook Page has over 24 million fans while the White House’s Office of Public Engagement lists ways that the public can communicate with the government through podcasts, photo galleries, streaming video, and more.”
Ron Paul, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, utilized a Facebook page to help raise funds for his presidential campaign in 2012. This feature allowed for voters to look at Paul’s Facebook page and experience clickable calls to action, such as “donate now” and “receive updates” buttons. According to a Forbes article, “Paul’s campaigns in 2007/2008 and 2011/2012 should be viewed as the first real internet-based presidential campaigns — the first time a campaign truly made use of, and relied upon, grassroots internet activism and social media to take root and flourish.”
The message and strategy Paul used really appealed to Republican voters. Paul gained over 100,000 followers on Twitter. He could also engage with multiple Republican presidential nominees as well.
There’s an ongoing struggle in American politics with getting younger generations to participate in civic events. According to the Pew Research Center, “[Social media makes it] cheap to communicate with a large number of potential supporters, [and] the internet reduces the costs of getting a group off the ground.” The interactive capacity of the internet allows some forms of political activity to be easily conducted.
An example where social media has made participation in politics easier was demonstrated on Oct. 7 of this year, when pop star Taylor Swift made a post on her personal Instagram. Swift’s post encouraged people to get out to vote in the midterm elections coming up in November. Influencers and celebrities, such as Swift, can use their platforms to show their activism to followers.
According to a CNBC article, Swift’s endorsement of a Democratic congressional candidate from Tennessee caused HeadCount to notice a spike in voter registration. HeadCount is a nonprofit that stages voter registration drives at concerts to translate the power of music into action.
Many celebrities have made impacts like this in the past, but Swift seemed to have the biggest impact because of the personal message to her fans. “We know those messages work because HeadCount has seen that work with hundreds of musicians for 15 years. We can quantify it. We can directly show that it leads people to register and vote,” Andy Bernstein, executive director of HeadCount, stated in the CNBC article.
Whether you are an avid social media user or not, one cannot deny the power a single Instagram post or tweet can have. Today, more than ever, we receive a lot of our news information from social media, and we continue to look to our political leaders for some type of social engagement. In the future, we will likely continue to see more politicians use social media, and hopefully they will be able to reap the benefits.