Social media, paving the way for politics

Social media campaigns are turning out to be sly and ingenious political maneuvers, with the rise of unsuspecting 2016 presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders.  Popular trends like #FeeltheBern and #StandwithRand permeate Tumblr dashboards, along with Twitter and Facebook newsfeeds. Despite the age restriction for voting, younger activists equipped with networking expertise are being given more political prowess than ever. However, with such authority of influence comes a great deal of responsibility.

Faced with a lack of resources, Sander’s organizers looked toward social media–thus transferring the fate of the political campaign to the hands of unseasoned voters. The role of millennials in Sander’s grassroots success is confirmed simply by his prevalent hashtag slogan. The popularizing of the hashtag relies solely on people backing it up; no amount of funding from lobbyists or political ads could possibly force the same outcome. Initially overlooked, Sanders has become a Tumblr favorite with the most popular engagements on fan blogs, mainstream article pieces and propagation from individuals.  Although similar engagements online have not translated into the analogous number of votes in the past, as with Ron Paul’s candidacy in 2008, the role of social media has evolved significantly.  Among both newly registered and seasoned voters, networking platforms have become relied sources of fast and concise information.  Advocacy on networking sites are thus becoming increasingly influential, making the accuracy of information more imperative.

Use of social media from other politicians has also increased their crowd numbers during campaign appearances. Although Donald Trump may not be a Twitter favorite, like Sanders is on Tumblr, he has nevertheless established a notorious Twitter presence. Perhaps there is some logic in his obscene faux pas moves, including his tirades against Mexican immigrants and mockery of John McCain’s experiences as a prisoner of war. By gaining general publicity with his outrageous statements, he has also captured spotlights for his opinions on key issues. A quarter of Republican voters support his stance on areas of contention, making him the current leading Republican candidate in the primaries. Despite Trump’s starkly dissimilar way of employing social media, compared to Sanders, both candidates have resourcefully distinguished themselves from their competitors.

With the evident effectiveness of social media campaigning, it is vital now more than ever to distinguish between quick and easy campaigning, and dirty campaigning. Understanding the motives behind attack strategies is just as important as being informed beyond an honest, but spinned political advertisement. Although seemingly benign, it isn’t wise to be politically active via liking or retweeting the first campaign ad that shows up in the Newsfeed. With social media serving as one of the few civil outlets for millennials, it is important to carefully weigh the effects of simply clicking a like button. Even the average user can create a ripple effect from simply retweeting or liking a sponsored ad. Consider whether it is wise to retweet or share something Trump has tweeted—-as amusing as it may be—-or you may end up doing the dirty work of publicizing something intended for publicity’s sake anyway. Do not fall into the trap of always sharing the most popular political ad; never is everything revealed in a single caption. So do not support a politician on the grounds of a one-sentence blurb.

By Lisa Shen, Opinion Editor