Whether you’re running for president of the United States or dog catcher of Rufusville, it is considered essential for you to have a campaign presence in social media. Generally this means Facebook and Twitter.
Over the past decade as social media has grown geometrically, campaigns have numerous ways of delivering their messages to a variety of audiences. What began as a whimsical approach to promoting a campaign became a highly scientific and demographically oriented process.
As we get more and more bombarded with pleas for this and that from politicians and their surrogates, I couldn’t help but wonder how elections in 2012 would be different if there was no social media. What’s interesting is that in virtually every way that social media is involved, there is both an up side and a down side. It’s difficult to determine whether politics without social media would be better or worse; all we know is that it would be different.
Perhaps the two hopes for improving our campaigns as social media became more embedded in our lives were (1) it would be easier for candidates to deliver their messages to voters, and (2) because the internet and use of social media forums are virtually free, the cost of elections could be considerably reduced.
It is true that it is easier now for candidates to deliver their messages to voters. However, it some ways this has become analogous to the old saying about Mussolini, “he may have gotten the trains to run on time, but no one knew where the trains were going.” Political messages now arrive in our inbox almost instantaneously. However, does this speed result in the content of the message being more helpful to the public?
There is considerable similarity between what politicians send to us on-line and on paper. The common denominators are:
1. I want to serve you and your needs.
2. I’m an outstanding person with a showcase family.
3. The current system is rotten, but I’ll be a change agent helping the stench go away.
4. My opponents are either well-intentioned but mistaken, or in some cases they are simply slime bags.
5. Oh, and by the way, I really need your money.
What the politicians and their affiliated or non-affiliated organizations (theoretically such as SuperPACs), have either been unwilling or unable to do through social media, others have done. It’s called refining the message or elevating the conversation. Fortunately we still have numerous media outlets that publish remarkably insightful articles and posts on current political issues. Some originate in print media; others are strictly on-line.
Some citizens have regular on-line destinations where they access credible information and helpful editorials. Others receive links to articles that friends think would be of interest to them. But perhaps the most effective way for friends and associates to spread the word to others is through Facebook and Twitter. Facebook is particularly friendly; all you have to do is type in a link to an article and Facebook will make it “hot” with an accompanying image and the beginning of the text.
Whether the focus is on an issue, a movement, a campaign, a candidate, Facebook makes it easy for you to notify friends of what you’ve found. Consider the previous alternatives:
1. Send an e-mail to a “list-serve.”
2. Send emails to numerous individuals.
3. Send postcards or letters to others.
4. Make copies of the article and mail them to others.
5. Spread the news through word of mouth.
A simple post on Facebook or Twitter is much easier, although the most authentic way of communicating might be a direct conversation with someone else.
In response to the question of what political life would be like without social media, the clear answer is that there would be less information. But information can range from enlightening to distorting. If you’re fortunate enough to have well-educated and well-read friends, Facebook provides you with the helpful information you used to seek but rarely found. But when it comes to what the candidates serve you, it’s basically the same old same old. Too much simplification; too much demonizing of opponents; too much shilling for money.
Other than rare cases, if you stay clear of what the candidates and their surrogates post on social media, you’ll probably be a wiser voter because of what’s available on Facebook and Twitter. But as always, buyer beware.
Since 1969, Arthur Lieber has been teaching and working in non-profit educational organizations. His focus has been on promoting critical, creative, and enjoyable learning for students in informal settings. In the 2010 mid-term elections, he was the Democratic nominee for US Congress from Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District.