An Intern's Perspective

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Social Media and Modern Politics

Posted by [email protected] on April 5, 2019 at 12:10 AM

By Patrick Healy

        With the advent of social media’s explosion of popularity among various demographics came a nearly simultaneous desire to use it to advertise various products to the masses. It has grown ever more profound with businesses large and small, as well as among politicians looking to attract potential and recurring voters to rally behind them. This effect has become so profound overtime that political elections are even sometimes determined (in parts both large and small) by actions on social media, as was seen during the 2016 American Presidential Election. In short, Donald Trump should not have won. He had lost the popular vote by around 3 million to Hillary Clinton, and yet he still carried the electoral vote by a sizable majority; it wasn’t even close, 304 to Hillary’s 227. Trump’s social media presence was stronger than that of all of his political opponents since well before day one of his candidacy, having hundreds of thousands or even millions more likes, subscribers, or followers on all platforms than his nearest political opponents. Thus, the efficacy of social media is, without a doubt, highly relevant to any would-be politician, and any who would throw their hat into the ring and declare candidacy should look to use social media as a tool to improve their chances of success.

Social media is not a monolith. Different cultures, regions, and demographics use it differently, and at different rates. To be truly successful, one must study their target audience. Do they use Facebook more? Instagram? Twitter? How do you master these sites various algorithms to make the most of them? Would viable strategies on one site be catastrophic on others? How much attention should be spent on these issues at all? All are relevant questions to any campaign, and ought to be taken seriously. Regardless of your political affiliations, it is difficult to deny that Trump’s upset victory was miraculous to his supporters. Almost every poll supported Hillary Clinton’s victory, and while there are countless reasons her campaign was defeated, illiteracy on social media is one that we can, at the very least, observe. Her media team was facing countless challenges from word “go,” as Trump had a sizeable advantage on almost every platform. Trump’s constant tweets were always trending, always galvanized his supporters and always drew lines in the sand, at least where the tweets he wrote himself were concerned. Trump used slogans that were easy to remember and repeated them often; “Lying Ted” and “Crooked Hillary” became rhetorical staples for his debates, whereas Hillary’s slogans such as “Love Trumps Hate” were clever, but not simple, and they weren’t nearly as scathing as the slogans Trump used to smear his opponents. The word play she used worked among intellectuals she wished to gain the support of, but alas even with all of these votes and then some, she still lost. This is not to say that everyone should behave like Trump; politicians should have some standards, and for many this kind of rhetoric would be crossing the line. That is a good thing; it shows the preservation of moral character, and should be celebrated. Just remember that Trump’s methods won him the votes he needed, and wise politicians should always consider what methods will get them what they need to succeed.

So for all my fellow interns out there, now and in the future, I hope you take a few lessons here, especially if you find yourself managing (or struggling to manage) social media accounts for yourself or anyone else. Social media has become indispensable for political campaigns to succeed in the contemporary world; it’s important to not only use it, but to use it correctly. Different social sites have different algorithms to direct traffic, and expert entrepreneurs spend months and years studying these to give themselves as much of an advantage as possible. Politicians will have to learn to do the same, as there are few better ways to get your message to reach as many people as physically possible. So if you take only one thing from this post, let it be this: Do your homework first, learn the social landscape before you begin posting. Approach it with surgical precision, and always know your audience. The world is changing, and it’s leaving many in the dust. Don’t be the one who gets left behind.

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