The Other Side of Social Media and Politics: Does It Undermine Social Issues?

In a previous article, we discussed the increasing influence that social media has within the political realm (particularly as a medium for tackling social issues in developing countries). While this is reason enough for social media to take centre stage in modern political debate, however, there is an alternative side to this argument that is worthy of equal consideration.

This is most prevalent in developed countries, where social media is commonplace and contemporary politicians are exceptionally adept at using this medium. This has bred familiarity and in some instances misjudgement, however, as even politicians have become casual when using social media and showcased a willingness to use the medium in an inappropriate manner.

Is Social Media causing Political issues to be overshadowed by persona’s?

As any professional will testify, a poorly judged comment on social media can ruin a career and cause irreparable damage to individual brands. It can do much more in politics, however, as the as the emotive nature of real-time social media interaction and the status of those who utilise the platform can ultimately detract from crucial social issues. In this respect, there is a danger that major political talking points will be undermined while elections will be determined on personality rather than policy, mandates and carefully honed strategy.

To understand this further, we need only look at the current U.S. Election build-up. While current (and departing) incumbent Barack Obama set a benchmark for the utilisation of social media during his campaign in 2008, the proliferation of this medium means that it is now one of the dominant platforms for political debate among candidates (and the electorate too). From the Periscope live-streams of Ted Cruz’s appearances and Marco Rubio’s ‘Snapchat Stories’ to live and impromptu Twitter debates, political candidates are exploiting social media to increase their profile and gain traction arguably at the expense of genuinely impactful discussion.

Then there is Donald Trump, whose aggressive social media approach often crosses the line and breaks down the borders of trolling. He embodies the concerns that exist surrounding contemporary politics and social media, as rather than intelligently discussing core issues he seems to use social platforms to insult opponents, discredit his opposition and make inflammatory comments in a bid to start childlike conflict. In essence, he appears to use his brand and personality as leverage to discredit opponents, rather than focusing on the development of a viable policy for government.

The Last Word

While Trump may not last the course of running for political office, his ethos is tailor-made for contemporary politics while it also embodies genuine issues with the intelligent discussion of seminal issues. While traditional print and broadcast media required candidates to be rehearsed and coherent, social media enables them to be energetic, active and capable of delivering inventive and impromptu sound-bites.

While some may argue that overly rehearsed candidates are also counterproductive in a rapidly moving and volatile political climate, there is surely a healthy balance that can be captured in-between these two extremes. If not, we need to make a choice about what we prefer as voters: slick and contrived politicians that at least have a fundamental grip of the issues, or faux-celebrities who are ranked according to their number of followers and their ability to deliver a cut-throat barb to a rival in real-time.