eLections: Politics’ Natural Home Is Social Media

As Mark Zuckerberg stood in front of the F8 audience, and the hundreds of thousands of live streamers, he outlined his vision for Facebook over the next decade.

We stand for connecting every person — for a global community, for bringing people together, for giving all people a voice, for a free flow of ideas and culture across nations.

It was this, and a few less-than-subtle jabs at Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, that led many who were watching (myself included) to determine that Zuckerberg’s real ploy was not to bring Facebook to your house, but to the White House. Was the tech wunderkind announcing a run for President?

President Zuckerberg?

No. Sorry to all of those who wanted to see the grey tee and blue jeans on the Capitol steps in 2021 but Mark’s not got a political future. He does, however, have a way to make his voice heard by all the politicians in Washington, London, Beijing, Canberra and Moscow. He’s giving you the greatest communication platform in the history of humankind and telling you to do the job yourself.

Why Social Media?

Facebook has been a game changer. With more than a billion users, crossing all lines of age and gender, it has grown to the size rivalled only by China and India and will soon surpass those two nation states. It creates celebrities and allows those in traditional media to keep in touch with fans throughout the world. It turns cute videos of cats falling on their butts into a viral sensation while also allowing the free spread of notions such as democracy and the removal of money from politics. There is no need for Radio Free Europe; the US-backed radio station broadcasted into Communist countries, in the age of Facebook and Twitter. To foster the revolutionary spirit as we saw in the US in 2008, Iran in 2009 or Egypt in 2011 people simply need an idea, a voice, and an internet connection.

Politicians in Western countries are also able to use social media to reach out to their constituents. Facebook recently rolled out Facebook Live, their take on Twitter’s Periscope, to all users and pages. Now live streams, which only a few short years ago were confined to but the richest of politicians and countries, are in the hands of every person with a smartphone and an internet connection. The live stream feature can, and should, be utilized by every politician no matter if they’re Local, State or Federal. All press conferences, public meetings, and campaign events should be live streamed to the people to promote transparency, engagement and a sense of belonging by forging a bond between the politician and their voters. By giving voters the chance to see, interact and lobby their political masters you invite them to be a part of the political process.

A sign of the times: Iran, 2009. The allegedly fraudulent elections led many to protest in the streets

Multilateralism at its’ finest

Yet, the tools that Facebook, Twitter and YouTube unveil are not just for the political class to take advantage of, the beauty of social platforms is that they level the playing field for everyone. The Fourth Estate has now melted away and in its place has risen a new class of media, journalism and accountability. The live video tools that broadcast a politician’s speech to hundreds of thousands are utilized by a single person ranting in their basement about corruption or immorality. The reach of the two entities, the politician, and the pawn may differ regarding size, but history has shown that a lone voice can sometimes be as powerful as a choir.

In the social media age where buzzwords like ‘engagement’, ‘likes’, ‘friends’ and ‘followers’ are now more widespread than some ideologies, there’s been a shift in the way that we understand and interact with politicians. The rapid rise of smartphones and social networks have given unprecedented power to the people, and many politicians and governments are scrambling to catch up. It’s safe to say that we are a few years out from people casting their votes through Facebook. As entertaining as it would be voting ‘sad’ for Ted Cruz or ‘wow’ for Donald Trump, the social network can still be used as a platform to interact, debate, or lobby your political representative. 
The political class has begun to use the features offered by Facebook, Twitter and YouTube but only in superficial ways. As the social giants begin to integrate themselves into our lives, and Zuckerberg’s speech at F8 showed that they have grand plans for us, then we will surely see an engaged citizenry lobbying for their rights. The question remains: will the politicians listen?

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