How (and WHY) Politicians Use Social Media

When politicians use social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter and TikTok, are they forming real connections with young people who might vote for them...or are they just being awkward?

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How important is social media for politicians?

Using social media isn't easy. It’s a new, confusing thing for a lot of politicians. But throughout American history, if politicians wanted to be successful, they had to master whatever communication tool was popular. Ben Franklin passed out pamphlets. Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his fireside chats over the radio. John F. Kennedy won over America with TV.  And now, it’s all about social media.

Does social media help politicians with their campaigns?

Within the first month of using a Twitter or Facebook account, politicians saw a small but significant increase in donations. Remember -- political campaigns run on donations, and most Americans donate in small amounts. We’re talking like 25 or 50 bucks. So a bump from social media can be huge. Social media also gives lesser-known candidates a low-cost option to communicate and make themselves known. Think about Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (aka "AOC"), a representative from New York who came out of nowhere to win in 2018 and become the youngest member of Congress. It would have been REALLY hard for AOC to make the kind of impact she did even a decade ago when she would have had a hard time paying for TV and newspaper ads.

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What are the downsides to politicians using social media?

Social media has something really unique going for it. It’s designed to keep you on it by getting you in what psychologists call "flow" -- a state of mind where you're so totally engrossed in a task you lose all sense of time. But that flow can turn dark real quick. News flash -- politicians can lie. And when it happens on social media, misinformation and conspiracy theories can spread like wildfire.

SOURCES

Social Media and Political Contributions (SSRN)

How Social Media Is Shaping Political Campaigns (University of Pennsylvania)

How Social Media Is Changing the Way Politicians Communicate (Magic Mile Media)

Social media is rotting democracy from within (Vox)

'Don’t Be Awkward' And Other Advice For Politicians On Instagram (WBUR)

The 2020 candidates are good at social media — until they make you cringe (Washington Post)

Social Media Are Ruining Political Discourse (The Atlantic)