With Facebook and Twitter boasting hundreds of millions of users, social media reaches a wider audience than could our earlier sources of political information, and has become a dominant force in molding public opinion and winning elections. Here’s a look at some of the things that have happened along the way.
1) Journalists face extinction.
Readers “of a certain age” will recall that not too long ago, we got our news from such trusted sources as Walter Cronkite, our local news anchors, and the esteemed columnists in daily papers and monthly news magazines. These journalists took great care to thoroughly research every detail of their offerings – to verify the information before declaring it to be factual, and to clearly separate fact from opinion. But when the “news” morphed from being a public service to a profit center, journalistic standards were replaced by perfect hair and pretty faces, opening the door to a new kind of “reporting.”
2) Political reporting became Drudge-ified.
A new breed of news reporter has replaced the journalist of the past. Virtually anyone with an opinion and a blog has the ability to share that opinion with the world, and individual bloggers with no journalistic background reach far more people with Twitter and Facebook alone than even the biggest-name journalists could hope to reach.
3) Facts became secondary to spin.
In Breakfast of Champions, author Kurt Vonnegut theorized that for humans, ideas were little more than badges, used to express agreement with friends and disagreement with enemies. We have now become acclimated to being fed a constant flow of badges in place of facts, and The Lie, told often enough, becomes the new Truth.
4) Voters exchange priorities for badges.
It has become fashionable to align one’s self not so much to an actual issue as to the badge that issue is supposed to represent. Those who don a different badge become some evil Other, and are removed from our field of vision, their opinions marginalized and dismissed, rather than listened to and considered.
5) Polls become the new elections.
Every day, some new poll result is published, announcing the changing mood of the voting public. It matters little who publishes the poll, how slanted it is, or even whether it even exists. It is shared across social networks, accepted as fact, and campaigns are modified accordingly.
6) Grassroots movements flex new muscles.
Hear an interesting comment or rumor? Tweet it. Post it on your Facebook page. If it resonates with your friends, they’ll to do the same. In no time, it will grace the screen of someone who might turn the idea into a Movement.
7) Big Money notices and responds.
Whenever a movement materializes, moneyed interests view it as potential customers or tools. What began as a virtual party among friends becomes a well-funded “populist” vehicle for those interests’ objectives
8) Political parties obey.
As ideas become Parties, their perceived influence grows. The established political parties, fearing the loss of their dominance, forge alliances with the groups and modify their platforms accordingly. More reasonable party members shake their heads in disbelief, but still scramble to embrace the would-be juggernaut.
9) Candidates have their own grassroots movements
No candidate will ever pass up an opportunity to amass a larger body of constituents, and what better way than to avail themselves of the largest database of like-minded voters on the planet?
10) Candidates shake virtual hands and e-kiss babies.
Spreading a populist message is essential, but shaking hands and kissing babies is unlikely to ever go out of style. And since more people will see a candidate’s “personal” outreach on a social media site than by attendee a fund-raiser, candidates tout the embrace on social media.
Well-crafted participation on social media outlets provides each political candidate with the means to leverage his or her message. And since the political process runs on money, the incredibly low cost of using that leverage is irresistible.