Social Media Won't Change The Election
Mainstream media types love to cite and source social media outlets for “news”. This tendency to take the pulse of “what’s going on out there” by logging onto Facebook, Twitter or any other internet time-waster is on display during every election now. Pundits try to break down election wins and losses by analyzing social media movements as though they are a reflection of real people doing real interactions.
This analysis is a waste of time, because social media is mostly a waste of time, especially in regards to things like elections. Let me break it down for you…
Facebook is the originator of the social media concept. Lot’s of stuff came before, but Facebook is the big one that expanded to basically everyone who uses a computer. Over the years, however, Facebook has changed.
When Facebook first started it was very chaotic and wild west. People had limited “friends” on their Facebook page and felt relaxed enough to share and over-share, whatever happened to be on their minds. As friend counts expanded from family and friends to acquaintances and colleagues a funny thing began to happen. People began to realize that they don’t actually like the people they thought they liked. That guy that seemed kind of cool in college that you lost touch with; you added him on Facebook and consequently got news feed spammed with dubious sports jokes and weird interests bordering on obsession. After a few weeks, you quietly unfriended him. Patterns like this have forced Facebook to mature.
This relates to politics in two ways.
#1. Over the years people you don’t agree with have disappeared from your page and you from theirs.
I once added a girl from highschool who used to have her locker beside mine. We were on friendly terms during high school and when the chance to reconnect via Facebook arrived I gladly accepted. It quickly became clear that our views on many things differed, as she began posting standard left-wing boilerplate and I’d jump in to either counter with an alternative argument or post something contrary of my own. Eventually, an anti-climate change article I posted pushed her over the edge and I was no longer her friend.
I’ve done it too though. I had a colleague that seemed like a cool guy at work so I added him on Facebook and then consequently discovered that he’s obsessed with atheism and gay issues.
How did I know this?
He avalanche spammed my news feed with anti-Christian and gay rights opinions and articles. I thought I was pretty good with diversity of opinion, but it was a massive and continual posting of material, most of which was crude and left-wing and I got tired of it filling my page...so I unfriended him.
What does this mean for politics and elections?
It means I won’t be reading his political opinions. He won’t be reading mine. We’ve diverged. As Facebookers cut out people they’ve found politically annoying, it has reduced the variety of points of view a person is exposed to. Facebook of 2015 is much narrower than it was in 2011 as a result. But it’s narrower not just because people have left, it’s also narrower because...
#2. The people you’ve kept as Facebook friends are more guarded than ever.
Since people have intuitively realized that political friction creates hard feelings on Facebook, they’ve consequently pulled back on the types of things they are willing to share and/or engage with. We’ve all heard stories by now of people being fired for things that have leaked via Facebook. We’ve probably seen first hand the social justice warrior mobs take down someone’s reputation due to a Facebook post. I had a relative that posted a picture of himself during halloween. He dressed as a pirate and held a curved plastic sword to his baby in a mock threatening manner. He received a storm of outrage so visceral, just from the people on his own social network, that he left Facebook permanently.
What is Facebook’s use now? People share family photos of their Canada Day barbeque. They post jokes or “I hate Mondays” memes. Funny animals doing funny things are prevalent. Showing off a new boat or truck is common. Kids and babies doing banal things that kids and babies do. A fancy meal might get a snapshot. Basically, nobody posts anything that’s dangerous or touchy or mildly opinionated.
Nothing political makes it to Facebook anymore and, when it does, people cringe and quickly move on. The only way for Facebook to become involved politically is by the user adding Facebook pages to their like list. For example, I can add real content sites like, National Review or Fraser Institute or C2C Journal to my Facebook likes and then get news feed updates as they release content. This is a failure of true social media, however, because I’m basically just self-selecting Facebook feeds from websites I would otherwise visit anyway. I’m just aggregating the stuff I want to see onto one page. How is this social media anymore?
It’s basically just a contact book with random semi-interesting life events punctuated with news and articles I’d otherwise seek out directly. Drop the contact book with the random semi-interesting life events part of the equation and you’re basically just left with…
Twitter started out as the ballpoint pen to the internet’s public toilet stall door. Trivial, snarky and transient. Journalists now use it extensively to talk amongst themselves in an off the cuff and often arrogant manner. They also use it to source story ideas and get general reactions to stories as they unfold. It’s incredibly lazy journalism and horribly overrated. Nevertheless, media types think Twitter is “something that matters” in regards to electioneering. The deep problem with Twitter is similar to Facebook, only more nerdy.
#1. Anyone motivated enough to use Twitter for politics already has their mind made up.
There’s a general sense that people tweet to share thoughts and ideas, but it’s not true. People tweet to advocate an already decided position. Nobody listens and everybody talks. To paraphrase a Warren Kinsella tweet, “Nobody ever changed their political worldview because of a tweet.”
#2. Twitter is mostly used as a functional tool, not social media.
Twitter itself is relatively unpopular and arguably dying. Normal people that do use Twitter, use it for stuff like breaking news, weather, products of interest etc. Normal people don’t use #cdnpoli in order to comment on Ottawa happenings. They don’t troll random politicians and make grand judgements as though anyone cares. Using Twitter for political purposes is a niche within a niche. The days when people thought Twitter was causing the Arab Spring, seem like ancient history. If you think Twitter is going to matter in October, you’re sadly mistaken.
One of the limiting elements for Twitter is the 140 character limit. Perhaps people will be more engaged with a longer form version of social media. Something like…
Reddit is a weird place that functions like a message board from yesterday combined with oddities you can find on things like Buzzfeed or Stumbleupon. Take one look at the front page and you’ve got a perfect representation of what Reddit is all about. From there, you need to sink into the Canada section and from there you need to sink into the Canada politics section. Now you’re ready to browse current events of the day and argue with people in the comments section. The comments are why you visit Reddit.
To Reddit’s credit, the comments can often be more informed and articulated than what you’ll find in the comments of a random mainstream web publication such as CBC or National Post. The problem again resides in two areas.
#1. No one normal goes to Canada politics subreddit and spends time there. It’s mostly political junkies who already have their minds made up. Except these political junkies really, really have their minds made up.
#2. It doesn’t do anything to transcend the website itself. In other words, it’s the equivalent of a bunch of poli-sci students hitting the bar after class and debating with one another. Kind of fun if you’re into it, but useless in terms of effecting change.
What else is there?
Youtube isn’t social media, it’s democratically produced television on the internet. Most of it is garbage, but if you hunt for stuff that interests you then it’s a valuable resource. Do people use it as a valuable resource though?
They’re hunting for “9-11 was an inside job” documentaries, searching for a mindless laugh over someone wiping out on a bike while dressed like the Hulk and they’re listening to albums they don’t want to pay for while sitting at a computer and writing articles like I am right now (Ultravox’s 1980 album Vienna if you must know...).
Nobody is changing their voting intentions because they’re comparing party platforms outlined on Youtube videos. And sorry,but anyone with Adblocker or the ability to click “Skip”, isn’t exposed to the pre-rolls.
Snapchat is for teenagers to picture-text each other. There’s no politics happening there.
Pinterest is for crafty Facebookers. Mostly women use Pinterest to look at stuff they want to buy or make or buy more of or have bought or made for them. I have a Pinterest account. You can look at it here. I implore you to figure out how I could influence anyone's vote with this aimless platform. It is thoroughly, thoroughly, useless.
Instagram & Flickr
They’re just photo albums.
Twitter version of YouTube.
Just a blog aggregator.
Probably the most useful social media to facilitate a real world application, but who uses it? Who uses it for politics? You could get better traction going to a political party constituency organization and do some door-knocking, followed by a barbeque or something. Which brings me to my final point…
You know what wins elections?
Real life wins elections. Meeting people. Talking to people face to face. Interacting with people in non-political situations and letting them know where you stand in a friendly manner. Knocking on doors and introducing the candidate. Holding parties and events. Direct mail. Volunteering. Spending time and exerting energy. Doing real stuff matters.
As we move into the next election, social media’s power to influence is going to wane under the more mature nature of its own development. Those that don’t use social media probably aren’t going to start at this point. Those that are already using it, will continue to fine tune it to their tastes. Those that live in social media will continue to hurl their activism into the internet black hole and will remain a singular vote on election day.