Social Media and Politics – Social Politics?

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Does social media have a political pull?

The power of social media has been seen throughout the world in recent times. Becoming a revelation in the way people from all over the globe can communicate ideas, spread awareness of issues and have constant contact with one another, it has dented dependency on mainstream media somewhat, making propaganda more see-through than it has ever been before.

The Arab Spring is a prime example of how technology’s ability to rapidly get the word out without fear of censorship led to major life changing and country altering events, which have rippled throughout many countries, and their political systems, around the world. From protesting oppressive political regimes in Lybia and Syria, organising financial protests with the ‘Occupy’ movement or even fuelling the fire of the London riots, social media played a huge role in the major news of 2011.

Social media isn’t just responsible for social change in the ‘real’ world alone; only recently a huge online protest occurred to battle the US Congress from passing its SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) bill, which if voted in would change the internet as we know it, and not just in America. Major websites such as Google, Wikipedia and Reddit displayed protest messages or even removed their site from use for a day, a tactic that worked, with SOPA being dropped by law makers.

A year after Egypt faced it’s very own revolution, something that was coordinated through social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, their political parties are beginning to use social media in their own strategies to communicate with a wider audience in order to win those few extra votes. Now, with the US presidential election campaign in its early stages we could be about to see another dose of social media in action.

Developed in Facebook’s recent “hackathon” competition, the behemoth social media site with over 800 million users, is launching a new application called “2012 Matters: What Matters Most”. The app aims to encourage political debate and share users’ political views on New York’s Time Square’s giant digital billboards. Using a series on polls the app developers aim to get as many Facebook users’ opinions as possible, urging them to encourage their friends to participate as well.

Users can opt to have their profile photo displayed on Reuters’ digital billboard in Times Square once they have installed the app and highlighted their three most important issues of the election.

Interestingly, the developers decided to stick to the issues rather than the candidates themselves, perhaps turning what could easily become a giant popularity contest into an opportunity to find out what the American people really think about the crucial issues first hand. This may be a glimpse of the future of democracy.

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