Political Influence Through The Use Of Social Media

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In modern times, social media has been the primary platform for the general population to express their opinions and interests to the world. Social media has brought people around the globe together to share experiences and opinions on controversial topics. Throughout the years, politics has become one of the most significant topics on social media, especially during and after the presidential elections in 2008, 2012 and 2016. Being one of the most popular platforms to share political views, Twitter has become the center of political controversies and discussions surrounding the said topic. Social media, especially during the 2016 presidential election, played a significant role in voting and campaigning, due to the fact that diffusion of ideas and the spread of one’s campaign could be easily shared and broadcasted through just one click. Many politicians utilize these platforms to their advantage and attempt to promote their campaign on their social media by updating and maintaining social media accounts and purchasing advertisements online as a means to lure in potential supporters.

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In social media, fake news is often written about politicians in order to ruin their reputation. According to researchers Hunt Allcott, an Associate Professor of Economics at New York University, and Matthew Gentzkow, a Professor of Economics at Stanford University (2012), “fake news” is defined as news articles that intentionally contain factually incorrect and misleading information. Some of the most famous fake news stories made by news outlets concern Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump, the two leading contenders during the 2016 presidential election. Fake news distributors and creators generally shared and heavily favored Donald Trump, as nearly 115 pro-Trump fake stories were shared on Facebook for a total of 30 million times, with only 41 pro-Clinton fake stories shared a total of 7.6 million times (Allcott & Gentzkow, 2012). The said goal of the creation of fake news stories is to improve or deteriorate a congressman’s image to the public.

State of the Media During Presidential Elections

During the 2016 presidential elections, political controversy on social media, especially on Twitter, experienced an increase every day. Politics have been a favorite topic among social media platforms for a few years, especially after the 2002 and 2012 presidential elections. Due to the controversy circulating Trump as president, politics have intensified the divide between social media users where there exists, into two distinct groups of pro-Trump against anti-Trump. Also, during the 2008 presidential campaign, social media arose as the platform for receiving political information, surpassing newspapers and radio talk shows. According to researchers Weiwu Zhang, Thomas J. Johnson, Trent Seltzer & Shannon L. Bichard at Texas Technology University (2010), 40% of all social networking users used MySpace and Facebook for political information, with 20% of them using it to discover the political interests of their friends and 22% seeking campaign information from social networking sites.

Social Media has become one of the most accessible places for politicians to gain support from voters, especially from those that are younger seeing that young adults tend to use technology more than adults and elders. According to Tom Rosenstiel & Amy Mitchell, directors at Pew Research Center (2012), a research center that conducts demographic research and data-driven social science research, digital technology allows politicians and leaders to engage with their voters in a new level of “conversation,” as communicating with voters would allow them to be viewed as those who are invested in their voters’ lives. This transforms campaigning into a statement more potent with more dialogue involved. By communicating with voters, one would gain a better chance to receive support as voters feel more “connected” to the candidate.

Politicians and Social Media Users

Although there are many platforms for politicians to use, content on different platforms have to be adjusted frequently to appeal to the audience of that one particular site. According to Postdoctoral Researchers Sebastian Stier, Arnim Bleier, Haiko Lietz & Markus Strohmaier (2017), politicians use Facebook and Twitter in different ways. Messages related to campaigning topics is 42.3% of its content on Facebook, while on Twitter, it is only 26.1%. However, although Twitter percent in terms of campaigning is low, political debates occupy a higher share of politicians’ tweets. This indicates that the politicians tailor their messages to different audiences based on which platform they are using, as it shows Twitter is often used for political statements while Facebook is used to mobilize campaign events (Stier et al., 2017). Politicians must tailor their content on different platforms due to the age of the users on that particular site. Researchers Francesco Buccafurri, Serena Nicolazzo, Gianluca Lax & Antonino Nocera (2015), researchers from Mediterranean University of Reggio Calabria have deliberately found that Twitter users on average are made up of mostly young adults, while Facebook users are primarily mid-thirties and above. Henceforth, to entertain the majority of users on different sites, politicians must take into consideration the age group among users, the behavior of them and what the site is primarily used for in order to reach to as many people as possible on each social media platform.

During the 2008 presidential election, many candidates used social media platforms to campaign as well. According to Robin Effing, Jos Van Hillegersberg & Theo Huibers (2011), researchers at the University of Twente, Obama used fifteen Social Media platforms to run his campaign as he understood the power of online campaign. He linked the online community to offline activities such as fundraising, and thus, his use of Social Media was an essential aspect of his overall campaign strategy. By connecting Social Media, more ideas could be shared within its users and political candidates who are campaigning to gain support. Due to media exposure, political campaigning helped Obama win the 2008 election, as social media attention brought spotlight upon his presidential run and exposure led him to familiarize himself amongst young adults, who constitute the majority of the users in social media.

Conclusion

As society continues to familiarize itself with modern technology, politicians, especially those that are in the United States, are finding numerous methods to reach out to the mass public, one being the use of social media. Numerous congressmen and presidential election candidates are striving to maintain a presence on social media platforms in order to reach out to more potential supporters. In order to reach to a wide range of audience, politicians, especially those participating in the presidential elections, tend to manage their accounts closely to tailor the contents to the likings of the users on the specific media platform. Ever since the presidential elections held in 2008, congressmen have further utilized social media to campaign for their causes. Following the election of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential elections, numerous fake news stories assessing congressmen from opposite parties have risen, striving to either improve the image of a preferred politician or to stir controversy surrounding such. Thus, as the world advances into a technology-based society, politicians are striving to possess influence on the mass population through the use of social media.

16 December 2021

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