Jim Morrison in one of his famous quotes once said that "whoever controls the media controls the mind." The emergence of social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook buoyed by rapidly advancing technology and their increased usage as political mobilization tools seem to vindicate Morrison's assertion. The permeation of social media in human lives and the capacity of individuals to use them to influence the minds, thoughts, and decisions of others have completely changed the political landscape in ways that no one ever imagined a century ago. The 2008 US Presidential election, for instance, has been called the "Facebook election" due to the great extent to which the candidates - particularly the Obama campaign team- went in using social media sites like Facebook to reach the voters. Thus, social media has changed the political landscape in that it has given certain candidates who are able to effectively use it in influencing, persuading, and mobilizing the electorate a competitive edge over others.
To begin with, social media platforms, such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter have changed the political landscape in many mature modern democracies around the world including the US first and foremost by promoting and encouraging active political participation among the masses (Tenhunen & Karvelyte). In countries such as the US, the youth form the most important part of the voting block whose crucial votes many politicians are keen to earn by all means. However, the main challenge is usually how to ensure that young people turn out in large numbers on the voting day to cast their votes. Most studies indicate that voter apathy is rife among the youth but with effective use of social media as a campaign platform, the tide can change for a political campaign. In the modern age of information technology, social media communication is the most effective and efficient way of accessing young people given that such sites form the basic communication and socialization media for many youths across the globe. Hence, the use of social media to run a political campaign can change the political platform by giving a political party a competitive advantage of being able to reach out to many young voters to participate in political processes, such as elections. According to Tenhunen and Karvelyte, social media thus enables political leaders in communicating faster and reaching their audiences in a more targeted way by generating debates, conversations, feedback, and reactions on various political issues.
Moreover, besides being used by political parties and individual politicians to influence political participation, social media can also be used to mobilize and persuade the masses to rally behind a particular political course or process. This way, social media and its use in politics has changed the political landscape by enabling politicians to rally voters behind them and to convince them to believe in their political manifestos. According to Leong, social media in the modern political landscape is largely used by politicians in persuading the masses to support and vote them in during elections as a way of gaining and retaining political power (46). In the run-up to the 2016 US Presidential election, for example, social media changed the political landscape by giving the political players such as Donald Trump the opportunity to reach, mobilize, and persuade a significant portion of the electorate. However, since the campaign and elections that followed, social media has been used by certain politicians in ways that represent a total departure from tradition in American politics. For instance, social media has been used by both voters and politicians to fuel hatred, vitriol, and sharp divisions across political, social, ethnic, and racial lines.
Furthermore, as Conway, Kenski, and Wang point out, the rise of social media sites such as Twitter has changed the political landscape by helping political players and even mainstream media in setting their politica agenda (363). According to these authors, social media through the agenda-setting theory has had the impact of determining and shaping various issues in the society (Conway, Kenski, and Wang 365). They give an example of the 2012 Presidential primary in which there was a heavy and extensive use of Twitter in setting the agenda on the various issues that mattered most to the politicians and the electorate. Twitter as a form of social media also changed the 2012 US Presidential elections by acting as a political platform where issues such as jobs, foreign policy, taxes, healthcare, and environment considered as important to many voters were openly discussed. It thus set the agenda for the political campaigns.
What is more, social media has changed the political landscape by encouraging increased political engagement and information flow (Leong 46). The upshot of this is that citizens or the electorate who participate and are interested in political processes have become more informed than ever before. The active engagement with individual politicians and free discussion of political, social, and economic issues that matter most to voters to make informed political decisions. Thus, the political landscape is no longer one which is dominated by political players who make decide everything on behalf of the masses and manipulate them to earn their votes. Instead, with the important role that social media plays and the position it occupies in our modern day communication, only politicians who can use social media to effectively pass their messages to the electorate have high chances of being elected. Besides this, social media has changed campaign strategies of political parties in a way that has transformed the political landscape in an unprecedented manner.
In summary, therefore, social media has changed the political landscape positively by playing an important role in enhancing political participation, improving political communication and campaign strategies, setting the political agenda, providing a unique platform for selling ideas, mobilize, and persuade voters. However, social media has also negatively changed the political landscape by making it caustic, vile, and heated as some politicians and their followers wrongly use it spread hate, fake news, and political propaganda as was witnessed in the just concluded 2016 US elections.
Conway, Bethany A., Kate Kenski, Di Wang. "The Rise of Twitter in the Political Campaign: Searching for Intermedia Agenda-Setting Effects in the Presidential Primary." Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, vol. 20, no. 4, 2015, pp. 363-380
Leong, Pauline. "Political Communication in Malaysia: A Study on the Use of New Media in Politics." JeDEM - eJournal of eDemocracy & Open Government, vol. 7, no. 1, 2015, pp. 46-71
Tenhunen, Susanna, and Vilma Karvelyte. "The Role Played by Social Media in Political Participation and Electoral Campaigns." European Parliamentary Research Service Blog, 12 Feb. 2014, https://epthinktank.eu/2014/02/12/the-role-played-by-social-media-in-political-participation-and-electoral-campaigns/. Accessed 9 Feb. 2018
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