Social Media Politics – A Personality Contest?
Smartphones are transforming politics, just as two other technologies have done so in the last hundred years. In the 1920s, candidates began using the radio to communicate with the public. These disembodied voices augmented the sense of intimacy felt between politicians and the American public. In the 1960s, television gave candidates their bodies back, yet now they needed to perfect a confident, charming demeanor–image was everything. Today, with the rise of the smartphone, the third technological transformation is underway. Now, politicians are building their social media presences in an attempt to connect daily with voters. Thus, with the advent of social media, voters’ expectations of politicians are changing.
Now, the public wants politicians, at the minimum, to have a presence on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, as illustrated by Donald Trump’s social media presence above. Politicians, though, have taken to many other forms of social media to engage the public. For example, Ted Cruz streams his appearances on Periscope, Marco Rubio uses Snapchat along the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump spar on Twitter, and Bernie Sanders takes to Facebook. Politicians have quickly learned that personality is everything on social media.
Yet, as Trump continually demonstrates, it’s only a certain kind of personality that garners the desired attention–one that is boisterous and offensive, that grabs the attention of the constantly distracted, that bursts into the world at regular intervals. Clinton’s social media personality, in contrast, does not garner the buzz that is desired. Take the example below–Clinton and Trump tweet a message offering condolences and emoting sadness about the recent attack in Nice, France, yet Trump receives significantly more “retweets” and “favorites.”
"Every American stands in strong solidarity with the people of France" —Hillary on the attack in Nice pic.twitter.com/BBGgHucSE0
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) July 15, 2016
Social media has transformed politics into a personality competition. Who can say the most offensive thing? Who can emote the most poignant sentiment? Who can author the most cutting tweet? In social media politics, emotionalism is more important than reason. And do we really want our politicians to be more emotional than rational?