The representation of politicians has always been a tricky issue, but recently we’ve seen social media become more and more important as an influence on public opinion, especially relating to the US presidential campaign and the Labour leadership row here in the UK.
A major problem with politicians using the internet is the same as the problem with so-called ‘Instagram celebrities’ and the like – many people simply do not realise that the persona is fake.
Take Hillary Clinton’s appearance on Between Two Ferns as an example. The scripted interview with Zach Galifianakis tries to present Clinton as genuine, and (sort of) ‘down with the kids’ when the reality is that she is old, out-of-touch and untrustworthy (most notably for using her own private email server as Secretary of State). Unsurprisingly, it didn’t work – many of the comments focus on how Hillary seems robotic, and criticise her (admittedly terrible) acting skills.
However, do not take this criticism of Hillary as support for Trump. Trump’s image (as America’s everyman saviour) is perhaps even more fictional than Clinton’s. Many people believe that Trump is strong in his convictions, despite the fact that he repeatedly appears to change his viewpoint depending on whom he is speaking to.
Taking Trump’s background into account, his backward-looking attitude and stance on immigration indicate that he is really just exploiting xenophobic sentiment in the US to get his own way, much as Nigel Farage did in the UK with the EU referendum.
It would be fair to blame the rise of social media for the warped perceptions of politicians and their views. Never before has it been so easy for a politician to say anything they want and have it seen by those who support them.
In the past, when interviews with traditional print-based media were more important, an untrue statement would likely have been challenged by the interviewer; online, assertions can be made directly by the politician themselves, and will not be questioned by supporters, because supporters want them to be true, whereas a reporter for a (reputable) newspaper wants the truth.
Social media also creates confusion – the Twitter battle between Jeremy Corbyn and Richard Branson (seemingly over a lack of free seats on a Virgin service, but really over Branson’s unsurprising opposition to Corbyn’s policy of railway renationalisation) kept the public in the dark regarding the truth for a while, and also resulted in the potentially illegal publication of CCTV footage by Branson.
Again, the whole thing was seen by Corbyn’s supporters, resulting in his approval increasing – just as Richard Branson didn’t want to happen. This is a frequent and major problem with modern online politics – the result is often the opposite of what is intended. Equally, it shows the growing role of individuals as news sources rather than organisations (Branson personally tweeted the CCTV imagery) which is due to social media.
Simply put, the pantomime of politics are dangerously manipulating to an open communication platform - highlighted especially by social media.
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