The Potential of Social Media and the Internet in an Evolving Political Landscape

The 1990s saw the birth of the global network phenomenal – the World Wide Web. Rather than being a mere set of networked computers for low-level communication purposes, the internet has actively transformed the way in which the world operates entirely, be it from a business perspective, banking or even just chatting with friends. From the turn of the 21st century the online arena started evolving at a much faster rate leading to the introduction of MySpace in 2003 and Facebook in 2004, worth $108 million and $3.7 billion respectively. As social media platforms continue to rise in popularity – with millions of people using them daily across the globe – the way in which politics is conducted is beginning to see a shift and will continue to do so for years to come.

Let’s look at the traditional method of parties reaching the electorate. For years parties have amassed a network of literature deliverers who would go about the constituencies and post pro-party material through each home’s letterbox in an attempt to get their message across and attempt to sway a household’s vote in their favour. Obviously this imposes several constraints mainly one of time and one of finance (the majority of deliverers will be volunteers which does limit a party’s ability to recruit). Next on the list is the media, traditionally televised messages. Although effective, once again a massive expense on party finances, which brings us to the modern era.

As the age of information continues to strive forward and more people are becoming computer literate (increasingly it seems as only the older generations have trouble getting online) these methods of researching the public are becoming obsolete, and in a world where a message can be seen by millions of people instantly for almost no cost, why wouldn’t you take advantage? Well so far the main political parties are making some use of the system, but I can’t help but feel as though it is somewhat lacklustre. Sure there have been numerous updates during the Olympic season with the party leaders praising our athlete’s success but so much more could be done.

By providing the public will up to the hour updates and ‘Tweets’ on the political day in the United Kingdom, providing us with daily newsletters and taking and answering our questions on Facebook the electorate regain the lost connection with their representatives and finally feel in the loop again. That being one of the more pressing issues faced in our political world today, if a party was able to take a substantial step in restoring the political to the personal, they would be putting themselves in a very good position in the forthcoming General Election – remember a party that the people trust is a party that will get elected!

However not only will this restore trust in politicians but it could also give the public back their voice, so-to-speak. If we take an example from January 2001 with the trial of impeachment of Philippine President Estrada, the nation’s Congress voted in favour of setting aside key evidence for him. A mere two hours from this decision the Philippine people amassed on Epifanios de los Santos Avenue in their thousands, turning to millions over the next few days, all this being organised via text message. The same can be said for the riots that swept the United Kingdom last year; it was set up by social media. So what we are looking at is a neatly wrapped package of contemporary Hegemonic Marxism and Pluralism depending on the side which makes use of it.

What is important to remember is that although as a global community we have made massive strides forward in technological development (we only need to look at the increasing market of smart phones for evidence of this) and the way we employ such technology, for all intents and purposes we are still in our infancy. As we grow we not only open up these channels for communication to the political world, but we are also breeding a new generation of political thinkers, this article for example could not be viewed if it were not for the internet and the message would become null and void. As we progress further and further into the information age the points listed above will switch from being optional to a necessity so it really is in the political party’s interests to make these changes sooner rather than later. Either way, it really will be fascinating to see how both the online and political landscape evolve in the next five or ten years.