December 1, 2014Published by: Charlie Sharpe

The Influence of Social Media in Modern Politics in the UK

TwitterUntil recently many have underestimated the power of social media in politics. However two recent events have demonstrated the importance of it.

Many political campaigners may take the traditional view that social media cannot influence the reputations and success of politicians, however more and more politicians are beginning to establish themselves on social media platforms. On average 85% of Members of Parliament (based on research of the 73 London constituencies) now have accounts YouTube, Facebook or Twitter that are managed by themselves or their offices.

Furthermore, in the last few weeks, two events have really highlighted the importance of social media in modern politics; the sacking of the Labour MP Emily Thornberry from her position of shadow Attorney General over a tweet from the labour campaign in Rochester, and the rise of the #CameronMustGoTwitter campaign.

While social media can be used as an effective campaigning tool, a lack of experience and understanding can be fatal in politics. Ed Miliband’s decision to sack Emily Thornberry over the Rochester tweet has attracted more attention from the wider media than the tweet itself, drawing significant negative press around the Labour party as a whole. This could prove to have a significant impact for the Labour party campaign in the fast approaching 2015 elections. Had Miliband demonstrated a better understanding of the power of social media could reputational damage have been avoided?

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 16.23.16The second example, #CameronMustGo, was initially dismissed by fellow MP’s who predicted it would have little influence and would quickly disappear. However, after five days the hashtag had been mentioned 420,178 times and had an astonishing potential reach of 573,844,914 people. While some of these tweets may have been light hearted in nature, the sheer volume of such a negative hashtag are clearly not a welcome outcome for a party gearing up to an election.

These two recent examples demonstrate the potential risk of social media in modern day politics, however it’s important to note that social can be used as a successful campaigning tool if used and approached appropriately. Labour MP for Streatham, Chuka Umunna, has amassed a sizable online community - his Twitter page has 87,112 followers and his Facebook page has 13,065 likes.

One of the key reasons for Umunna’s social media success (aside from avoiding controversy!) are the regularity of his posts and the informal and casual way he and his office approach these updates. Chuka uses YouTube to post a variety of videos which not only address political issues but also demonstrate an interest in his voters through topical events such as the Ice Bucket Challenge and Notting Hill Carnival. Many people involved in politics on social media may dismiss this approach as not focusing on the most important elements of the job, however it has clearly won him a supportive online community.

Overall, while many politicians have struggled with the risks associated with social media, it is clear that there are opportunities for politicians to engage with a disillusioned electorate in a brand new way. As it becomes clearer that the future electorate is online it is becoming far more important for the politicians to be able to communicate with them.

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