Social Media is changing politics as we know it

Simeon Evans


I’m voting Facebook!

In many ways, social media is currently ruling modern life. We can all pretend it doesn’t affect us, but deep down we know that it’s almost impossible to resist seeking out those little red notifications that give us such joy in our day to day lives. I have been through the rigmarole of deleting my Facebook account; it was a half arsed approach to try and take back control of my life. Eventually, I found myself reactivating it in fear of missing events that I say I will attend, but in the end never go to, or seeing a photo that I ‘like’ just for the sake of maintaining relationships.

Arguably such heavy social media usage is not good for us, but what’s worse is that we are all told this frequently, and ignore the warnings. Like those who tell us smoking is bad, it is now acceptable for people to be judgmental of the internet users, who endlessly flick through hours of irrelevant content, just to find a video of a cat pushing a bottle off a table.

Not too long ago my news feed was filled with pictures of my friends taking part in mundane activities, but now it has changed, drastically. I am now bombarded by a tidal wave of adverts. Adverts are an annoying part of life, like having kids; annoying the majority of the time, sometimes useful, sometimes interesting and sometimes even offering you something you will eventually love. Besides adverts, the other elements of my news feed are generally made up of pages I subscribe to. These give me my daily fix of entertainment, and they include the usual; LADbible, the daily mash, and Vice. The last component of my news feed is made up of something I never imagined liking or getting in to: politics.

I follow all manners of political pages, from left to right wing, business and economics. I like to give myself access to as much of the playing field as I can, even when I am faced with difficult reading from some of the psychotic far left/right groups. Before the Internet revolutionised humanity, you had to read a paper, or watch the television for hours whilst they droned on in a boring monotone about their manifestos. I dare say few people could take in, or understand the majority of what was being said. Now, everything’s changed, and we have the world at our fingertips. I read both Labour and the Conservatives manifestos the other day on the toilet at work. It’s almost fitting to read both manifestos in a place where the majority of their content belongs. The Internet allows me to fact check what they say, see if it is reasonable, doable, and what their track record is like. I can check to see patterns in other countries; for example, I can see if Labour’s increase in tax at the high-end pushes top earners out the country. I can check how the Tories intend to excuse their abolishment of free lunches for kids, and what impact that will have on families and the future generations. I can do all that from a 4-inch screen.

Imagine how hard it would have been to fact check a lying politician without the Internet. You would have to depend on journalists doing a very good job, but even then the papers are typically in favour of one party or another, meaning your thirst for the truth might never had been quenched. It is therefore unacceptable for our generation, with access to the world at our fingertips, to let these (more often than not) lying politicians get away with it.

With this fountain of knowledge at our disposal, I think there has to be a new approach from the youth of our country to start making a statement via social media. Lest we forget we rule these digital highways. When was the last time you saw a movie about a hacker who looked like a politician?

As it stands, the political sphere that is dominated by the ‘elite’ from Eaton, through to the houses of parliament, will forever be ingrained in the traditional left versus right. This age-old battle is barely challenged by the sub parties, who are trying to rear their heads in amongst the shouting, aging, out of touch robots that crush them for their attempt to interject an alternative viewpoint. However in very recent history the political parties used Social Media so effectively that they began what ultimately was the biggest change in millennials lifetime: Brexit. The party who was at the forefront of this idea was, as we all know, The UK Independence Party. I do not agree with many of UKIP’s policies, but I understand how they gained such a meteoric rise. This rise destabilised our current progress in globalism, and sent repercussions beyond any of our wildest dreams, or nightmares, depending on your political opinion. One of their main avenues to success was Social Media.

What you may not know is that there is a whole side to the political campaigns that we know nothing of. For example there is a company based in Canada called Aggregate IQ, a tiny company which sits within a shopping centre in Downtown Victoria, yet received £3.5m in the run up to the EU referendum. Of course, not all that funding will of come from UKIP, however, the chief technologist of the Leave campaign was working in unison with Aggregate IQ with his company called Kanto. Kanto is a political consultancy that “joins the dots between people and data”. I am not saying it is just UKIP funding all of this, far from it, it was the leave campaign as a whole, however they were the party who instigated the strongest Eurosceptic movement towards Brexit.

These tech companies gave them the ability to reach targeted audiences on Social Media with substantial help from these agencies. Vote Leave senior officials stated that Aggregate IQ had been “instrumental” in securing the Out campaign. It spread their ideology across the country in record time, quicker than any traditional door-to-door campaign could ever of hoped for. Every day I saw (and still see) articles and information on UKIP about their policies and opinions. It’s not just UKIP though; the conservatives are spending a large proportion of their budget with Edmonds Elder, another London based digital consultancy. The political parties are using data to target our Social Media accounts in order to influence us in their favour. Sky News have started a twitter campaign called #invisibleelection, which enables you to shame any online political advert that targets you when browsing social media. I urge you to take a look on Twitter and see what people have been posting, as some of the results are shameless.

However it is not just the UK’s politics that has been influenced by the power of Social Media. Arguably president Trump’s election was given a more than significant boost because of it, with his campaign website in question this time. Cambridge Analytics had such a $5m strong backing from Trump (Nigel Farage was also introduced to them due to their successful results). In essence the company creates data points for the public, it then use data variables to target the hard to be reached.

Nigel-Farage-at-CPAC-2017

Nigel Farage now regularly makes an appearance at US rallies. Here he is at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February this year.

I remember my news feed for months being covered with Trumps face and tweets; never forget there’s no such thing as bad publicity, a statement clearly never truer than in his case. I couldn’t escape him, ever. I was travelling at the time across South America and everywhere I went he was the topic of conversation, not just from other travellers but also from the locals. Everything was regurgitated because of social media. Everything he said, every movement he made and action he took was turned into a meme, YouTube video or debated at length with the locals of the country I was in. I was shocked to be having a conversation with a Bolivian residing, with all due respect, in one of the least developed countries in the world about Trump’s actions that day, due to him having seeing the election news on Facebook. That information reaching that demographic at that speed has never been done before. Social Media is astonishingly powerful, but I fear the youth play it down or don’t understand the power of it, unlike these large companies. They know the power of getting people to talk about something. If there is a free rave on, or a place in London selling Lattes served in an avocado shell, you can bet your life I am sharing that article and tagging my friends in it. What these companies do is take advantage of that power, by combining far left or right leaning content, safe in the knowledge that it will always lead to the most valuable tool in all of this: the dreaded, infamous comment section.

The comments section is a hotpot of faceless profiles, voicing opinions that likely would never have been spoken if they were faced with a human instead of a screen. I often attend political debates, and debates have a small margin of people who will more than often say something controversial. The majority of people in real life don’t like conflict, but behind a screen the gloves are off. The power of the comments section is that people get tagged in it, and even if it’s a tongue in cheek comment, the information is still spread. It’s like a computer virus; it worms around people’s networks and they ingest it whether they want to or not. I used to spend hours trying to debate with people in the comments section and I thrived on seeing how angry people got at other people having opinions. It’s worth noting that I absolutely get angry at some peoples opinions and voice it on the Internet myself, so I am no better. It is this constant debate and involvement from the public that can spread ideas so quickly.

The power of Social Media is engagement, and the way to be successful is to choose your battles. Let’s be clear, you aren’t going to change the mind of an extreme left or extreme right wing individual, I know this from endlessly trolling many people on the internet. One comes to mind: forty-year-old John from some forgotten seaside town with a racist tattoo on his forehead. John didn’t give a fuck what I thought, and I know this because I spent days arguing with him on the internet. This was an unwinnable war, which took a lot of effort and only made both of us very angry. But if I could reach his kids, who are more impressionable and more likely to change their minds, then it is a lot harder for John the extremist to act like he does, when his kids are questioning his values.

According to the Office for National Statistics, Britain has been getting older, the elderly are living longer, and I say good luck to them. Whichever way you look at it though, they’re not going to be here much longer, and we will. That is why I still don’t understand why the youth haven’t got a bigger say in politics. Again, before the Internet this would have been impossible. The time taken to go through the necessary paths to make it into government and eventually be in a position of power is a natural aging process. Now, we can do everything in seconds, therefore it is logical to think that there could be a significant impact on the way this country is run if we used Social Media properly.

Having spoken to a lot of my friends and seeing young people who are interviewed about politics, the main consensus seems to be, “I would like to do something, but what can you do?” When you suggest ‘get into politics?’ the answer is always, ‘na’. Fair enough, I know how you feel, but we cannot expect change from the older generations if they are contented. This election has seen over 1.1 million young people registering to vote, and this is a great sign. Yes, politics is boring, and politicians are all horrifically out of touch with us, and greed seeps through their veins like alcohol seeps through ours on a weekend. With the help of social media, it is possible to discredit the lies spoken by politicians almost immediately, and brandish it across social media for all to see.

Politicians are elected to lead our country for the people, not get away with breaking laws and lying to us. That is where I believe the power of social media comes in, reaching and teaching the youth to be engaged and question everything in politics, using new techniques like data trends and social media pages. If done correctly you could see a major overhaul in the way governments are formed and run. I consider ourselves to be the luckiest generation in history because we have the ultimate “knowledge is power” tool in the Internet. We just need to use it more effectively.

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