How Social Media Has Changed Politics

10 Ways Twitter and Facebook Have Altered Campaigns

The use of social media in politics including Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube has dramatically changed the way campaigns are run and how Americans interact with their elected officials.

The prevalence of social media in politics has made elected officials and candidates more accountable and accessible to voters. And the ability to publish content and broadcast it to millions of people instantaneously allows campaigns to carefully manage their candidates’ images based on rich sets of analytics in real time and at almost no cost.

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Direct Contact With Voters

The Social networking site Facebook is displayed on a laptop screen

 Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Social media tools including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube allow politicians to speak directly to voters without spending a dime. Using social media allows politicians to circumvent the traditional method of reaching voters through paid advertising or earned media.

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Advertising Without Paying For Advertising

President trump on a YouTube video

 YouTube

It has become fairly common for political campaigns to produce commercials and publish them for free on YouTube instead of, or in addition to, paying for time on television or the radio.

Often, journalists covering campaigns will write about those YouTube ads, essentially broadcasting their message to a wider audience at no cost to the politicians.

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How Campaigns Go Viral

Twitter on a cell phone

Bethany Clarke / Getty Images

Twitter and Facebook have become instrumental in organizing campaigns. They allow like-minded voters and activists to easily share news and information such as campaign events with each other. That's what the "share" function on Facebook and "retweet" feature of Twitter are for.

Then-candidate Donald Trump used Twitter heavily in his 2016 presidential campaign.

Trump said,

"I like it because I can get also my point of view out there, and my point of view is very important to a lot of people that are looking at me."
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Tailoring the Message to the Audience

Political party strength in U.S. states

 Wikimedia commons

Political campaigns can tap into a wealth of information or analytics about the people who are following them on social media and customize their messages based on selected demographics. A campaign may find one message appropriate for voters under 30 years old will not be as effective with those over 60.

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Fundraising

Ron Paul
Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul. John W. Adkisson / Getty Images News

Some campaigns have used so-called "money bombs" to raise large amounts of cash in a short time.

Money bombs are typically 24-hour periods in which candidates press their supporters to donate money. They use social media such as Twitter and Facebook to get the word out and often tie these money bombs to specific controversies that emerge during campaigns.

The popular libertarian Ron Paul, who ran for president in 2008, orchestrated some of the most successful money-bomb fundraising campaigns.

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Controversy

Direct access to voters also has its downside. Handlers and public-relations professionals often manage a candidate’s image, and for good reason: Allowing a politician to send out unfiltered tweets or Facebook posts has landed many a candidate in hot water or embarrassing situations.

A good example is Anthony Weiner, who lost his seat in Congress after exchanging sexually explicit messages and photos with women on his Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Weiner lost the New York mayor's race following a second scandal and ended up serving prison time when one of his "sexting" partners turned out to be underage.

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Feedback

Asking for feedback from voters or constituents can be a good thing. And it can be a very bad thing, depending on how politicians respond.

Many campaigns hire staffers to monitor their social media channels for a negative response and scrub anything unflattering. But such a bunker-like mentality can make a campaign appear defensive and closed off from the public.

Well-run modern-day campaigns will engage the public regardless of whether their feedback is negative or positive.

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Weighing Public Opinion

The value of social media is in its immediacy. Politicians and campaigns do absolutely nothing without first knowing how their policy statements or moves will play among the electorate.

Twitter and Facebook both allow them to instantaneously gauge how the public is responding to an issue or controversy. Politicians can then adjust their campaigns accordingly, in real time, without the use of high-priced consultants or expensive polling.

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It's Hip

One reason social media is effective is that it engages younger voters.

Typically, older Americans tend to make up the largest portion of voters who actually go to the polls. But Twitter and Facebook have energized younger voters, which, in turn, had a profound impact on elections.

President Barack Obama was the first politician to tap into the power of social media during his two successful campaigns.

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The Power of Many

Social media tools have allowed Americans to easily join together to petition the government and their elected officials, leveraging their numbers against the influence of powerful lobbyists and monied special interests.

Make no mistake, lobbyists and special interest still have the upper hand, but the day will come when the power of social media allows like-minded citizens to join together in ways that will be just as powerful.