Popular social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Tumblr and Reddit are reshaping American politics. Specifically, Facebook and Twitter are fast becoming a gateway for leaders to reach voters instantaneously.
But the truth gets lost in translation. In the process, Americans are increasingly becoming soured toward politics altogether. Some critics believe that social media is disrupting the political ecosystem system.
It didn’t originate with social media. John F. Kennedy became the first “television president,” paving a unique path in influencing and wooing voters using technology.
When JFK and Vice President Richard Nixon faced off during the first televised presidential debate in 1960 in front of 70 million people — it shifted American politics and Kennedy in the polls. JFK was poised, sharp and dressed for the part. Nixon was not camera-ready, showed his frustrations during the event and didn’t project confidence. Using skillful strategies, television helped the first Catholic to become elected to the White House.
JFK learned that image was everything and technology was a key player. This holds today, but through different means.
With the touch of an app, users can share links, information, pictures and stories to millions on social media. For budding politicians and constituents alike, people have more convenient access than JFK ever had with television.
Former President Barack Obama’s was the first one to harness the power of social media in 2008 and 2012. His team was effective in a grassroots movement online, targeting voters (those who could be persuaded) on the sidelines through data collection. The campaign and supporters used memes to counteract the opposition’s messaging, oftentimes spreading like viral wildfire. In the end, President Obama outplayed Mitt Romney’s (R-UT) social media campaign, securing another term.
Then the dawn of Donald Trump’s presidency came in 2016.
Trump knows the horsepower of social media. His engine of choice is Twitter, utilizing the mechanism to battle opposers and update supporters. He practiced it heavily during the 2016 presidential campaign, reaching the younger voters. Brash at times, Trump took no rubbish. The practice of not acting politically correct captivated voters, upsetting Hillary Clinton’s White House dreams.
Social media is the choice for many politicians, who criticize Trump’s tweets — yet, behave similarly. They use identical tactics through their own messaging. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY) is notorious for the use of social media to jab opposers and express her thoughts on policies. The progressive has a home on Twitter where she connects with followers, is likable, using propaganda like anyone to get information out to her supporters.
Social media tactics work.
“As Andrew Breitbart understood, politics is downstream from culture. Social media has become an important vein for the consumption of modern pop culture, so it has exponentially more influence on the country as a whole than a single voter does,” Tho Bishop an Assistant Editor for the Mises Wire shares. “Trump’s ability to outperform past Republicans was obviously in large part due to his ability to understand and harness the power of social media.”
Social media lowers the bar of fruitful engagement, however. This leads to conspiracies, deceptions, fabrications and bogus news from both sides.
The platform can’t be blamed entirely.
“If your natural impulse is to share articles based on the headline or actively seek out articles that simply seem to confirm your own point of view, then you’re are engaging in behavior that increases your chance of falling for false narratives,” Bishop adds.
“I don’t know if there is any society-level solution to this issue, but we can all strive to be better informed on a personal level. We should all seek to be “one improved unit” in the world, to borrow from the great Harry Browne. This is why the Mises Institute has always focused on educating people of all ages on matters such as economics, history and the ideas of liberty. If you read a book like Economics in One Lesson, you can debunk 95 percent of the hot air that comes from politicians in Washington, or blue check-marks on Twitter.”
False narratives are ubiquitous.
“America went to war in Iraq over a false narrative pushed by “legacy media” less than 20 years ago,” he offers. “We have policy being proposed regularly that is grounded in false narratives, much of which comes from “respectable institutions” in academia and various non-profits.”
Social media is what television was to JFK’s campaign — a medium to be reckoned with in American politics. Has this ruined politics? Maybe. The 2020 election could be determined by its influence.
Securing the White House comes down to which candidate manages the medium to their advantage. For voters, our job is to scrutinize the messaging and do our due diligence on candidates before conceding to social media, traditional media or cultural trends.
-Written by Corine Gatti-Santillo