Whilst reading Clay Shirky’s book ‘Here Comes Everybody’, it dawned on me how social media has had (and will continue to have) a profound effect on the political landscape. We have already seen how Twitter has become a new form of amateur journalism (plane landing in the River Hudson in New York). A little while ago, during the elections in Iran, the government was trying to conceal what was going on and prevent any press from covering events. They were restricting access to opposition websites and text-messaging – a classic form of political repression.
So when people started to tweet messages from their mobile phones during the Iranian elections, Twitter became a lens for the entire world to see what was really going on. As a result, people started to protest and support the Iranians. Twitter users’ profile photos disappeared and were replaced with ‘Free Iran’ slogans. An uprising began a trend that urged people to change their Twitter settings so it appeared they were located in Tehran. The rationale – it would confuse and overwhelm the Iranian censors and protect the Iranians who might otherwise be found and persecuted.
In the UK, Twitter has even spawned a website called Tweetminster that is “a media utility that connects you to the influencers, opinion and news that shape current affairs and UK politics. Curation powered by data.”
Probably the most memorable combination of social media and politics was during Barack Obama’s Presidential campaign in 2008. This was the first time a campaign had truly embraced the digital world and social networks. Remember the Obama Girl and her song Crush on Obama? Here’s the video that has got over 19 million views!!
The Democrats were smart. They realised they had to tour the US and rally the voters on one front but they could not be everywhere at the same time. By tapping into online social networks, they created large followings where the information (videos, speeches, photos etc.) could be forwarded onto large amounts of people almost instantaneously. Over 14 million people ‘Like’ Obama’s Facebook page. Over 5 million people follow him on Twitter. So every time a message needs to be broadcast, by submitting it on 3 social networks, a potential audience of 38 million people can be reached.
Have you seen any other examples of how social media is being used in politics?
If so, please add a comment below with any links to articles.
Image courtesy of Jeff Clark