3 ways social media is warping politics more than ever

Jeff Barrett

Presidential elections are a lot like the Olympics. They happen every four years, we get super interested in them for a short period of time, and then once they are done we forget about them and get back to our lives.

The Olympics were a month ago. What do you remember? Ryan Lochte for all the wrong reasons and … exactly. That’s it.

It’s the same with elections. Two months from now you probably won’t remember Trump went to Mexico, Hillary almost fainted or that Gary Johnson doesn’t know what Aleppo is. And that’s fine. It’s all surface anyway.

But what you will remember is your opinion on the candidates. For, against or apathetic you will remember that feeling. And social media is having a far greater impact on this election than we even notice.

The 2008 Obama campaign has been considered one of the greatest achievements in social media. Sophisticated at the time, it mobilized supporters to make small donations and organized massive voter turnout in key cities and states.

It’s 2016; everyone knows how to do that. Bernie Sanders did it 10 times better.

But what’s really interesting is how social media is replacing conventional, foundational political tactics that have existed since TV first played a role in 1960.

Goodbye TV ads

Donald Trump is running a masterful media campaign. We hear a lot about the over $2B in free media he has received by calling in to morning talk shows in pajamas, but it’s social that drives that.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Past campaigns talked about the need for a candidate to raise money. Future campaigns will talk about a candidate’s need to raise their profile. Trump is unique. Most candidates don’t have 100 percent name recognition or a media presence that’s spanned decades. Hillary Clinton has the same recognition.

Not every candidate will be able to duplicate that. But 2016 is proving that the future of politics is being media accessible, not media resistant.

Everyone is a reporter

This is why candidates can’t shy away from media anymore. Everyone has a phone, everyone has a camera. Chances are you are reading this very article on your phone.

Because this technology exists, nothing can stay hidden anymore. Candidates can’t control a news cycle. It’s up to them to be transparent and stay in front of things now. There aren’t three broadcast networks anymore. And the beast that is social media constantly has to be fed with information.

Does that make things more circus and less substance? Of course. But politics have been trending that way for a long time. Our entire culture has. We keep up with The Kardashians more than we know the specific economic policy of either candidate. Our vote is based on a feeling and that feeling is created by the information we see, not the information we seek.

Everyone is a surrogate

Social media is full of opinions — good, bad, strange and indifferent. We are a product of who we spend the most time with and who we listen to the most. If social media didn’t shape our opinions, the term “influencer” would never exist.

clinton-rally
clinton-rally

Angela Radulescu/Flickr

Surrogates, people who go on TV regularly to support a candidate, have existed forever. A candidate can’t be everywhere at once so these experts provide details and talking points when needed. In an old media model, it was super helpful. Now it may just be noise. That information has already been seen on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat et cetera.

Any person, with some kind of influence that has an opinion, is now a surrogate.

One final thing

By now, most people have formed an opinion. I have. But I’m intentionally not sharing it. It’s not my place to influence you.

If you haven’t made up your mind, block out social media. All media. Take 20 minutes, do some solid Googling and figure out what each candidate will do for you in office. That’s way more important than who is winning the media cycle.