Into the Stone Age: Politics Before Social Media
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tiktok. Even Google and Youtube before that. Many people can no longer imagine their lives without the internet. Not only is it used for the spreading of important information, but it also is a big part of our social lives. Around 57% of the human population is active on one or more platforms of social media.
May I boldly assume this includes you, reader?
Since the early 1980’s, the internet has become an important medium. Not only does it allow people to stay in touch in a whole new way, but also in providing governments and news sites a platform to spread information, as well as letting citizens join in on political conversations. With the rise of social media, people are getting in contact with people from all around the world, sharing their ideas globally.
The Cambridge dictionary describes social media as “websites and computer programs that allow people to communicate and share information on the internet using a computer or mobile phone”. And although social contact is one of the benefits of social media, it is also being used as a platform to spread political views. Political parties and governments use social media to spread their ideas, promote their interests and their values.
What did political parties use to spread their ideas before the rise of the internet/social media?
Before the rise of the internet, and with it social media, political (right-wing) parties used other methods in order to connect with their voters.
Written media have long been used as medium to spread news, ideas, and ideologies. Newspapers used to be the main source of information, both locally and globally. Posters and flyers were used to invite people to meetings or presentations. But with the development in technology, new forms of media became interesting for politicians to use.
In Italy, Benito Mussolini chose to use radio and film. In 1925, he took control of the Instituto Nazionale Luce, the educational film union, to promote a nationalist and fascist ideology. His films about fascist heroes became a new measure to control the population and influence private thoughts and opinions. Mussolini’s speeches were recorded, and the audience was told how to behave or was specifically selected for the occasion. This is an example of a negative aspect of how media can be used to influence people. He also used film to portray himself as a true leader and a man of his people. He tried to make a brand out of his personality, much like Dutch politician Thierry Baudet does today. If you would like to read about Baudet, take a look at Sofia’s blog.
With televisions appearing more frequently in people’s homes in the 1960’s, politicians were intrigued to see if it would positively influence their campaign. American John F. Kennedy was one of the first politicians to actively use television in his campaign. When he became president, it was obvious that this strategy had a future. By using television, voters feel more included in politics since they feel like they know the candidates. Even today, television remains the main source of election information for a majority of voters.
Campaigning via social media
With the increasing amount of internet users, social media became an interesting medium to spread ideas and gain followers. There are many reasons why political parties choose to use social media in their campaign.
First, by posting on social media, they have a global reach without having to invest millions of euros. By simply hitting a button, politicians can share their values with the entire online community. This global community includes younger followers. By using social media and accessible language, it is easier to engage with a younger audience. Furthermore, instead of just bringing information to the people, social media allows voters to participate in a dialogue with the politicians. By getting feedback, politicians know which problems citizens are facing and are able to take a stand.
However, social media also forces transparency and authenticity. Everything politicians say, every political decision they make can be found online. When these actions are inconsistent, people will no longer support said politician or even show their dissatisfaction by organising a protest.
Not only politicians benefit from these media. Readers have unmediated access to wide range of information and can make a well-balanced choice when casting their votes. Also, because of the two-way communication channel mentioned before, people feel more included in decision making. It gives people the impression that they have a say in political and social debates.
The wide range of information found online can easily lead to information overload, making it hard for readers to make an informed choice. Another problem regarding social media is that every single person can share their opinions. Readers have to be careful when reading said opinions, for it might be hard to distinguish opinions from truths. Neutrality is the exception rather than the norm in social media, and some people are not aware of this fact.
So reader, be weary of misinformation.
In order to give you a clear overview of what has been discussed in this blogpost, I included the figure below.
Figure 56.1. Phases of new media in election campaigns.
|Old Media, New Politics1992-1994||Established nonpolitical and entertainment media formats accommodate election communication; web campaigning is primitive||Call-in Radio and TelevisionLate Night Television ShowsNews Magazine ProgramsMusic Television (MTV)Print and Television Tabloids‘Brochureware’ Websites|
|New Media, New Politics 1.01996-2006||Internet technology facilitates the development of new forms of campaign communication with interactive capabilities||Websites with Interactive FeaturesEmailDiscussion BoardsBlogsMeetups|
|New Media, New Politics 2.02008-present||Expanded and sophisticated use of digital technology for campaign applications characterized by higher levels of interactive information sharing, networking, collaboration, community-building, and engagement; use of “big data” to personalize voter appeals||Full-Service WebsitesSocial MediaVideo Sharing SitesTwitterMicroblogging SitesMobile Device ApplicationsiMedia Applications|
Feature picture: photo of an American family watching the political debate between John F. Kennedy (pictured) and his opponent Richard Nixon in 1960. This debate was the first of many to be broadcasted on television. Retrieved from https://edition.cnn.com/2014/05/29/showbiz/tv/sixties-five-things-television/index.html