Since the advent of the internet, many technologies have been developed to enhance exchange of information. For instance, the emergence of smartphone technology midway through the first decade of the 21st century served to cement the position of social media in the telecommunication field. Through the use of communication tools such as email, instant text-messaging, photo-sharing and social networking users actively interact on various issues in the society irrespective of locations. Politics is one of the areas that has received extensive acceptance in regards to the application of social media tools to spread ideas and exert influence on global citizens. Today, social media not only provides the platform for political aspirants to sell their manifesto but also creates convenient avenues through which the citizenry and other independent persons can express dissent against incumbent governments.
Research has demonstrated that people who consume products of social media are more likely to participate in the issues of governance. The ubiquity of social media has become a fact of life for global citizens. These platforms have provided the public with the freedom of speech to collectively participate in political matters (Shirky, 2011). Through social media platforms, the public receives information on how the government of the day is conducting its business in so far as delivering its mandate. As such, governments become more accountable and responsive to the needs and expectations of the public. However, there are instances where social media has been used to express dissatisfaction and these expressions resulted in fundamental changes in governance and politics. These cases will be the subject of focus in the subsequent sections of the essay.
Before the advent of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, mass text-messaging was a common avenue that people used to spread information to various interested persons within a short period (Shirky, 2011).This way, political players received more scrutiny from members of the public without necessarily going through the traditional processes which were often derailed any attempts by the citizens to hold their leaders accountable in regards to matters of governance. The increased view of the public eye implies that the leadership of some politicians became more vulnerable since social media activities are inclined towards the publics favor. One such early causality of social media wave was the president of the Philippines, Joseph Estrada.
Shirky (2011) documents that the use of mass-texting among the residents of Manila was crucial to the success of the impeachment process that saw Estrada hounded out of office for abuse of power. During the impeachment trial of President Estrada, his loyalists voted to ignore substantial evidence that implicated the president in abuse of power and corruption. When the citizens received information about the Congresss decision, they reacted by mobilizing themselves on Epifano de los Santos Avenue, downturn Manila where protests were organized. The organization simply entailed sending mass text messages that read Go 2 EDSA. Wear blk. In a matter of moments, a crowd had gathered on EDSA Avenue for the protests which sparked national outrage over the Congresss decision. As a result, the Congress reversed the decision which officially removed Estrada from office on 20th January 2001.
The impact of social media in Estradas case shows such platforms enable citizens to mobilize and push decisions in political processes. This influence is depicted in the sense that politicians wanted to compromise the integrity of a leader at the expense of expectations of the populace. As such, the about turn decision by the lawmakers reflects a political process where the political elite yield to manipulations at the expense of the interests of the public. And since such manipulative efforts failed, the outcome portrayed social media as a political tool with the potential to dictate the direction of an entire political process in any given jurisdiction.
All over the world, social media has provided a new avenue for politicians to reach out their audience in a more effective and convenient manner. Through platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, candidates engage with voters online where campaign issues are deliberated. According to Dezelan (2016), online platforms enable the electorate to access candidates in virtual settings thereby enhancing the probability of citizens making better choices in electoral processes. Additionally, citizens engage in online discussions which enable them bring forth a range of issues that affect the populace and how best such matters can be tackled by prospective leaders. This level of information puts the voter in a better position of holding leaders accountable and, therefore, influences government policies.
Social media has also enhanced the ability to make better choices due to the gradual shift of political campaigns from the traditional campaign platforms such as television, radio, newspapers, and others. Here, opinions are consolidated, and decisions are reached based on the various perspectives given by experts and ordinary citizens. Although social media has been associated with the political divisiveness of the American electorate, evidence suggests that this form of communication has played a significant role in challenging the politics as usual climate that has characterized the countrys electoral process for years (Dezelan, 2016).Partly, the status quo was a product of the conventional media outlets who often promoted the agenda of certain politicians at the expense better candidates had limited finances. These platforms are an advantage for smaller candidates since these aspirants leverage on the ubiquity of social media avenues to reach a wider audience compared to the strategies that make substantial investment in popular media platforms.
Voting patterns is another attribute of the voter which has attracted the interest of both academics and political strategists. One study found some linkages between voter turnout and the use of social media as a campaign tool in political processes. First, the study established that those voters who received Facebook feeds that encouraged them to vote and also guided them to nearby voting stations showed a greater probability of turning up on election day. Such trend creates an impression that voters who receive updates on their Facebook pages gain more awareness about the need to participate in the electoral process compared to those who do not. Besides, voters who received news feeds on their Facebook pages were likely to get interested in the day-t-day running of the government compared to those that did not access such information at all(Bond et al.,2012). However, the aspect of face-to-face communication still occupies a critical part in political campaigns especially when online contact has been created.
The influence of social media on the political process can be further viewed through the prism of voter mobilization. During campaigns, organizers have the opportunity to send messages to a multitude of people which allows them to mobilize with ease. Campaign leaders may form groups which can be used to reach a wider audience in a cost-effective way. An illustration of such investment is Obamas campaign teams in 2008 and 2012 general elections. Obamas Ask Me Anything on Reddit received quick acceptance, becoming a major mobilization tool targeting minority groups and young people. Other avenues such as Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube helped the campaigners to share pictures and other feeds of the campaign trail keeping supporters up to date on latest happenings (Bond et al., 2012; Dezelan, 2016). In the end, Obamas campaign attracted young crowds and minorities who later turned up and voted on election day.
Aside from assisting leaders to ascend to power, social media has been used in the ouster of undemocratic regimes in different parts of the globe. The Arab Spring is one of the most powerful political upsets planned and executed through social networking sites. Mohammed Bouazizis self-immolation in a small town of Sidi Bouzid triggered violent events in Tunisia which spread to other parts of North Africa and Middle East. Trough social networking sites, images of Bouazizis act of self-immolation spread to other parts of the country, galvanizing protests that marked the start of the Arab Spring. During the initial protests, the technology provided speedy and low-cost tools for collective action. Through Facebook and Twitter, protesters recruited, fund-raised and disseminated information and images that sustained protests for months (Wolfsfeld, Segev, & Sheafer, 2013).As a result, President Ben Ali was deposed, ushering in a new era in the politics of Tunisia.
For a better appreciation of the significance of social media technologies in collective action, it is critical to consider the political environment in which such action takes place. Citizens would react to calls for mass mobilization depending on the political climate of their country. Jurisdictions that are mired in corruption, hardship and repression are more likely to attract violent and sustained protests compared to those nations that enjoy a relatively better democratic climate, prosperity and respect for human rights and freedoms (Wolfsfeld, Segev, & Sheafer, 2013).The above argument is grounded on the idea that corruption, hardship, and repression tend to cultivate anger among populations which can explode at the slightest trigger. Moreover, people who are vulnerable in the society tend to be attracted to any organized action that seems to provide recourse for their problems. Accordingly, Tunisians reacted violently and widely embraced the power of social media due to the anger that had built as a result economic exploitation under the leadership of President Ben Ali.
Another area that has attracted a huge presence of social media is terrorism. As the internet became more ubiquitous at the turn of the 21st-century, terrorism evolved to exploit the new technologies as a means of spreading their radical ideologies across the world. According to Burke (2016), the globalization of terrorist activities has been largely influenced by the growth and spread of social media and related platforms. The new platforms have enabled Islamic fundamentalists previously localized in the Middle East to access a wider audience. For instance, new recruits in the Diaspora have been instrumental in carrying out attacks on Western countries. But how does terrorism play into the art of politics?
Terrorism traces its origins to the politics of the Middle East where major world powers have played a dominant role in matters relating to foreign policies of several countries in the region and also their internal political processes. Today, groups such as Al-Qaida, ISIS and their affiliates use social media platforms to coordinate their activities, attract new recruits through radicalism, and spread propaganda about the West and its allies (Blaker, 2015).For instance, terrorists use social media platforms to distribute graphic and violent images of execution of people suspected of having a relationship with the West. Soldiers, journalists, foreign workers, Christians, suspected spies, and homosexuals are the common victims of the brutal acts of terrorists. These brutal acts are meant to instill fear among Western audience with the expectation that the Western populations would revolt against their own governments on matters of foreign policy (Burke, 2016). As a result, they expect that these foreign governments would change their policies towards political allies in the Middle East who they consider as puppets of...
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