Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Role of Social Media in Politics

Now that we've overcome the initial hype of social media that always accompanies any technological change, it's easier to recognize how it's affected society at large. Aside from easier networking for recreational purposes, social media has made its mark on politics in ways that aren't readily apparent yet to even the most acute observers. The ability to share news, opinions and information at the speed of light has already begun to break down walls and shake up the political landscape drastically. Ultimately, the impact of social media on politics is an unfolding story that continues to evolve with each passing day.

How Social Media Influences Politics at Every Level

From sparking revolutions to influencing political campaigns, Twitter and Facebook are the new weapons of choice for mass broadcasting. While the actual software platforms that facilitate the social media sharing are fascinating in and of themselves, it's the manner in which they're used that's really amazing. From organic, grassroots fund-raising as exemplified by the historic primary run of Ron Paul to interaction with constituents via the Google+ Politicsportal, social media has thoroughly permeated the current political landscape. Even oppressive regimes overseas and close to home are feeling the effects of the increased exposure wrought by social media activism.

Shaping Perception & Sparking Reform

The YouTube phenomenon of Obama Girl made the 2008 presidential elections in the United States the first to feature true viral candidate promotion. The upcoming 2012 GOP convention in Tampa claims that it will be the most social event in politics yet, featuring an unprecedented level of live content streaming thanks to widespread mobile device adoption and usage. Clearly, the days when campaigning revolved around stump speeches and baby-kissing are over. While creating the right perception among constituents is one shallow use of social media, affecting popular grassroots change is just as common. Already, official White House website petitions are used to at least gauge the level of demand for change if not actually delivering it.

Social Revolutions Around the World

Not all social media political action is as peaceful as fund-raisers and online petitions. As the events of the spring of 2011 conclusively demonstrated, it can also be used to rally the people in the event of a revolution. During the upheaval in Egypt that eventually ousted Mubarak, savvy web users relied on Twitter and wireless mesh networking to circumvent the government's Internet wall that attempted to separate the country from the outside world. Likewise, the accompanying Arab Spring riots in countries like Tunisia, Libya and Bahrain relied extensively on social media to coordinate movements, supplies and logistics throughout the revolt.

Demolishing the Political Machine

In some cases, social media is being used by more alternative counterculture types to avoid "the system" entirely. If the mantra of the 60s was "tune in, turn on, drop out", the motto of the digital natives is "plug in, link up, Do It Yourself." The so-called Millennial Generation more often than not leverages social media to cut ties with traditional politics and create their own semi-autonomous communities that are more self-reliant than previous generations. The Occupy Wall Street encampments in New York showed how powerful such a mindset can be, even when shared by a wildly diverse group of people who are highly wired and intricately networked.

Social Media and Politics in the 21st Century

What we've seen in just the first decade of this millennium alone as far as social media is concerned is merely a harbinger of things to come. Massive, distributed information sharing is really only the beginning. What began as simple sharing will morph into action in the coming years. As such, it's no surprise that governments worldwide are already using expansive data-mining projects like the massive NSA data center to keep tabs on movements in the social media sphere. Expect the trend to accelerate and magnify as an ever more integrated and responsive digital global consciousness develops in the near future. 

Nicola Byrne writes for Calverton Finance , a UK company specialising in payroll through their Payfactory service. 

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