The social media have become an integral and influential tool in the political and social arenas throughout the world. In the last decade and a half, the social media craze has turned into a way of life, which has necessitated people to take into account its effect on their activities, including personal and work lives. The social media refer to the media that are created by the public in a social manner as opposed to the media that are created by editors, journalists, and media corporations (Gayo-Avello, 2017). Another definition given by Hogan & Melville (2015) states that it is a set of communication avenues, which can be described as being generated by numerous people to be consumed by the masses. They contrast it from the broadcast media by indicating that in social media users of the information are also producers. As such, the social media revolve around the use of user-generated information. There are numerous social media platforms that have emerged in the recent years, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat among others. Among these platforms, Facebook is the oldest and arguably the most extensively used with more than 2 billion monthly active users throughout the world (Statista, n.d.). In the world with approximately 7 billion people, Facebook has significant social influence and it has been utilizing its influence effectively. Understanding the impact that Facebook has on the society is vital. Therefore, this paper seeks to understand the impact that Facebook has on global politics.
In 2008, former United States President Barrack Obama was running a political campaign to get into the office for the first term. During this time, the internet and the social media were a critical tool in his strategy. The campaign team incorporated various approaches to ensure success and it involved campaigning in the grassroots, fundraising, and supporter mobilization. These activities were done through what can only be referred to as prime example of the utilization of the social media for electoral gains and this continued into his government, which was effective (Katz, Barris, & Jain, 2013). A similar pattern was experienced in 2016 when the current president, Donald Trump, was viewing for office and even though he is seen as very different from his predecessor, his masterful use of Twitter during his campaign can be credited as one of the reasons why he got into office. Running a campaign that was less funded than his rival’s, having less political experience, and being marred by multiple scandals led most observers to believe that Trump’s push for presidency run would not get to fruition (Allen & Parnes, 2017). Nonetheless, he managed to win the election and has remained in office, as well as in the conversations throughout the world. Although his presence on Twitter was not the main element that led to his victory, it enabled him to communicate directly with his supporters and controversial tweets gave him free coverage by the media. It is impossible to ignore the fact that the social media had an impact on the election of the two most recent presidents of the world’s super power.
There were cases identified in other parts of the world where the social media fueled the Arab spring events of 2011. A revolution was witnessed in multiple Arab states throughout the world as a result of communication through the social media. Various leaders, for example, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, got evicted from office as a result of the uprising. The social media enabled citizens in different nations to organize and stage protests and public resentments, which were aimed at removing authoritarian regimes. Consequently, the opposition kept increasing due to the reach through the social media and eventually the regimes transformed into democracies (Diamond & Plattner, 2012). Additionally, the social media have also managed to mobilize citizens of Western nations. A study conducted on the influence of sharing information on the Facebook platform concluded that a distinct message shared on the platform has the potential to mobilize thousands of voters during the day of elections (Bond et al., 2012). The experiment introduced the ‘I Voted’ button during the November 2010 United States congressional elections. About 60 million users were shown the message indicating that one of their friends had voted and this resulted to more than 60,000 additional votes, while there were additional 280,000 people who were indirectly prodded (Bond et al., 2012).
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Although all these highlights provide circumstantial evidence about the impact that the social media have on the political front, it is necessary to present additional factual issues indicating that social media do matter in the political arena. Even though it might be easy to imagine why the social media are a critical tool in politics, different functionalities that it presents are not new. Political actors have always had numerous tools at their disposal, which offer similar services as the social media, including blogs, personal websites, emails for direct communications, and other forms of communication tools. Nonetheless, one can argue that the social media do present a new feature in the political communication since it combines all different communication tools into one platform. Furthermore, it allows users to generate information and access it readily unlike other platforms where the politician is the main generator of information. It is the holistic nature of the social media that fuels its potential in the political communication. According to Jacobs and Spierings (2016), the main features of the social media can be classified into five groups. Messages sent are unmediated, platforms are personal, there is a high degree of interactivity, it is cheap and has a friendly interface, and information shared diffuses miles beyond what the traditional media can communicate (Cohen, 2018). As such, it is a critical tool to be used on the political arena.
One of the leading social media platforms is Facebook, which has been in existence since 2004. It started in the United States and it is currently available throughout the world unless the country has some bowdlerization on its use. As one of the oldest and still dominant platforms, Facebook is an important influencer in the world of politics. It has the same general features of the social media platforms, but it also has some unique features that make it an ideal tool for political influence. Interaction features that Facebook gives its users have a huge impact on the visibility of posts shared. DeVito (2017) indicates that Facebook enables its users to interact with a post by sharing, commenting, or liking it. In addition to these, Facebook has recently added other reactions and they allow the user to share other emotions, including ‘love’, ‘haha’, ‘wow’, ‘sad’, and ‘angry’. These reactions add the flavor to emotions of the person towards the post and they go an extra mile towards expressing inner emotions as opposed to only having the like button. Every Facebook user has a personal account through which they can share and interact with other users. The platform also allows people to create pages and groups for their different causes. Their fans and supporters can like or follow the pages, and they can share and interact through them. Therefore, the platform avails all the required tools to enable users not only to post their thoughts, but also to react to what others have posted.
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There are different ways through which Facebook can influence politics depending on whether it is a politician who is aiming at getting new viewers or these are activists seeking to have current people in power change their way of doing things. Nonetheless, the user who needs to get attention and following has to conduct some form of marketing for their cause. Similar to the business marketing for a product or a service, the message that one intends to deliver must be shared widely and it must contain correct details to capture attention of the masses (Kruikemeier, 2014). In addition, they have to interact and respond to users who react to them. There are various studies that have indicated the importance of raw posts and their frequency, as well as the number of friends or followers as being major contributors to success of a political cause. Nonetheless, these elements of the platform only have marginal impacts, which are dwarfed by internal functionalities of Facebook posts. It is important to have tight interactions between politicians or activists and actual voters or people whose support is being sought (Parmelee & Bichard, 2012). Since the platform allows intimate direct conversations with supporters or voters, it can be used to draw them closer to campaigns.
Consequently, supporters feel more involved in the quest and yield their support by feeling inclined to give their vote to a specific candidate or support to the activist who has managed to have a successful interaction with them. It is important to analyze and understand whether direct interactions are important or it is passing the message nonetheless. Notably, most politicians and activists have their main aim of creating awareness and amassing as much support as possible regardless of the approach used. Propaganda is one of the issues that others use through these platforms in order to have an edge over their opposition. The general idea is to have users believe what is being shared, assist to spread the message, and have their support in order to change the narrative to one’s advantage. Therefore, the social media can be used in multiple ways to influence the politics.
The way how people communicate and interact has evolved and this has been influenced immensely by the development of the social media. It has made interaction among the people from different corners of the world possible. The last two decades have seen an increase in the development of social media platforms. Some of these platforms have been integral in the political arena throughout the world. Different politicians have made use of the social media in their campaigns for office and it is seen to have influenced their ultimate win. Among these platforms, there is Facebook that has more than 2 billion active users each month. The platform can be used in politics either by people seeking to get votes or by activists seeking to have some changes. As indicated in different literature sources analyzed, Facebook enables users to have numerous approaches to interactions, which enables them not only to engage with the message and the person who shared it, but also spread the message to other people. Therefore, the platform can be used to share the message extensively and appeal to users and have them converted into voters or supporters.