Twitter has transformed the way politics is conducted. Politicians have increased their presence on the internet and are now able to reach out to potential supporters while also keeping up with constituents with just a click of a button. Today, having a good social media presence is vital for any political campaign and an easy way of getting one’s message across.
President Trump is the prime example of a politician who has taken “politweets” to the next level. He has shown us just exactly how much power Twitter can have, bringing in a new era of simple direct messages. He has demonstrated that “bad publicity is good publicity” and has used Twitter to threaten world leaders, bully presidential candidates, and call out “fake news.” Trump has changed US-Syria policy with one tweet and used another to fire Defense Secretary Jim Mattis out of office. But somehow this method has worked, and his supporters enjoy his brutal honesty.
Twenty years ago, campaigns would need to go through broadcast networks and newspaper to get major coverage. The internet has changed that. Twitter is relatively small in the political sphere, mainly used by politicians and its strong followers but those supporters help push the agenda outside of Twitter and bring the discussion to mainstream news on TV, print, and other websites.
In total 558 MPs have Twitter accounts. Most MPs are very active on Twitter, tweeting at least once or twice a day, not to mention likes or retweets. Only 50% of tweets issued by MPs are originally theirs, the rest are retweets. On average, MPs are retweeted within an hour after publication and due to the constant pumping of information into social media and news outlets, the life of a tweet is short and after 24 hours, forgotten. The need to be constantly saying something on social media has therefore proven essential to politicians. Social media has permitted for direct contact with voters and advertising without having to pay for it. The style, although faster, is frequently less verifiable.
Despite the negative stigma around social media and the warning that we shouldn’t believe everything we read online – we do. One in five social media users have changed their minds about politics or a candidate for office because of something they read or saw on social media.
Social media has also altered the way that government institutions operate. We no longer must wait for tomorrow’s paper to see what happened in politics; MPs can now tweet from their phones as they sit in the Commons and give us live updates on what is happening.
The question of whether 140-character messages is good or bad for politics will continue to be the subject of debate. But one thing is for sure, for better or worse, social media has left its mark on political engagement and is here to stay.