How Does Social Media Affect Politics?

Updated on January 1, 2020
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Haley is a professional nerd with a penchant for researching historical figures.

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Has Social Media Affected How People Vote?

The emergence of digital and social media has changed the way people engage in politics across the globe. Leading American politicians used innovative ways such as sending messages directly to voters’ smartphones in an attempt to request them to support their political agenda.

The trend of relying on social media to reach many people was first used on a large scale by President Obama during his first presidential campaign (Christensen, 2012). Since then, social media has continued to shape political engagements in various countries. The power of social media was again witnessed during the Egyptian revolution. Tufekci and Wilson (2012) explored the role of social media in the 2011 Egyptian protests which led to the ouster of the then-president, Hosni Mubarak. This incident demonstrated the influence of social media in toppling repressive regimes. Millions of people who had access to smartphones in Egypt were able to track what was happening in their country through social media.

Rogue governments can use social media to weaken opposition in their countries.

At the same time, social media enabled individuals who could not attend the protests due to other reasons an opportunity to disseminate visuals and support the cause. Lastly, the case of the Tahrir Square protest appears to suggest that social media makes the opposition powerful; however, additional research by Spaiser et al. (2014) suggests the opposite could be true.

Rogue governments can use social media to weaken opposition in their countries, as President Putin did during and after Russian elections in 2011-2012 (Spaiser et al., 2014). This article will explore the use of digital and social media in politics by focusing on two primary sources and two other additional sources.

How Were the Egyptian Protests Affected by Social Media?

Digital and social media continue to play a great role in shaping the political landscape across the globe. An example of the important role played by social media is what happened during the Egyptian protests that ousted President Hosni Mubarak. Tufekci and Wilson (2012) presented background information indicating the kind of dictatorship that Egyptian citizens had endured before social media became popular. Tufekci and Wilson (2012) discussed the effectiveness of social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, when mobilizing citizens to join a particular political cause. The authors focused on Tahrir Square demonstrations held in Egypt to show the effectiveness of Facebook and Twitter in influencing citizen participation in protests and determining the success of political protests.

Survey findings for their study indicated that many of the participants learned about the protest through interpersonal communication (Tufekci & Wilson, 2012). Moreover, the protest turned out to be one of the most successful in the country’s history because social media enabled participants to disseminate visuals, thus showing a large audience what was happening on the ground. It is worth noting that having internet-enabled smartphones that can access social media platforms has created many citizen journalists, thus making it possible to get information about political activities from many sources. In some of the cases, such information ends up shaping the reports of the mainstream media (Tufekci & Wilson, 2012).

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How Can I Use Social Media to Reach Voters?

The selected topic is relevant to this particular course because digital and social media students are supposed to learn about innovative ways of using media to reach the highest number of targeted people. Christensen (2012) examined how American politicians used innovative media tools to communicate their political agenda to a large population. Unlike using other media channels that have low success rates, the use of mobile phones increased the likelihood of getting a higher percentage of the targeted population engaged in politics.

Moreover, digital and media professionals need to understand the effectiveness of using digital platforms to reach populations that are more difficult to reach using other traditional channels. For instance, Christensen (2012) pointed out that running political ads on television may not have been effective because a substantial number of busy people rarely watched television. Therefore, digital and media professionals need to identify ways to catch the attention of such people. One way of doing that is by sending apps directly to their smartphones (Christensen, 2012). For example, other marketers can rely on the apps that consumers download to determine who to send a marketing message about a particular good or service.

In addition, the selected topic is relevant to a course on digital and social media since it highlights how social media was used to achieve what may not have been achieved using traditional channels of communication. In the case of the Egyptian revolution, it is essential to note that dictatorial governments have been known to censor what the mainstream media broadcast (Tufekci & Wilson, 2012). This would have limited the number of people who participated in the Tahrir Square protests significantly.

However, social media offered individuals who could not attend the protests in person a chance to participate in the political protest by disseminating visuals about the protest (Tufekci & Wilson, 2012). Therefore, this topic is relevant because it allows students to study the special capabilities of social media in facilitating societal change, something which all digital and social media students should learn and appreciate.

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The study by Karamat and Farook (2016) provides insight into an important aspect that relates to both politics and social media. In many cases, scholars discuss the impact of social media on politics without going into the fine details of what gets people involved in political activities. This particular study provides new information about how social media shapes the public perception, thus leading to increased political engagements (Karamat & Farook, 2016). It is worth noting that people may not be motivated to join a particular political cause unless their perception about something has changed in a manner that makes change inevitable. In many political protests that have taken place, social media played a critical role in shaping citizen’s perceptions about a particular subject (Karamat & Farook, 2016).

Lastly, Spaiser et al. (2014) present new information which shows how powerful entities can manipulate social media and end up changing the public opinion in their favor. Their study contributes to this paper’s topic by showing how powerful entities can misuse social media to deny the public the political changes it so much desires.

At this point, it is worth noting that most class discussions focused on the way social media could be used to bring positive political change among the oppressed. However, this paper offers contradictory information, which indicates that social media can be used by some governments to maintain the status quo (Spaiser et al., 2014). As such, political analysts and other voices in the community need to examine who is driving the public perception about a particular issue on social media. Unfortunately, if a rogue government invests heavily towards misleading people on social media, there is nothing much that can be done as the masses tend to fall for prevailing propaganda when it dominates social media platforms (Spaiser et al., 2014).

References

  • Christensen, J. (2012). In 2012, campaigns target voters through their phones. Retrieved from
  • https://edition.cnn.com/2012/05/24/tech/mobile/campaign-text-ads/index.html
  • Karamat, A., & Farooq, A. (2016). Emerging role of social media in political activism: Perceptions and practices. South Asian Studies, 31(1), 381-396.
  • Spaiser, V., Chadefaux, T., Donnay, K., Russmann, F., & Helbing, D. (2014). Communication
  • power struggles on social media: A case study of the 2011-2012 Russian protests. Journal of Information Technology & Politics, 14(2), 132-153.
  • Tufekci, Z., & Wilson, C. (2012). Social media and the decision to participate in political protest: Observations from Tahrir Square. Journal of Communication, 62(2), 363-379.

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    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 

      7 months ago from PNW

      Good article. Endless topic. The Hong Kong protestors have been using social media to spread the word too, but sadly it's getting harder and harder.

      I'll share it on my social media. Stay well.

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