Social Networking Tools = Political Tools

16 Sep

Ignore the ‘jackass’ comments and recent claims by a former president that his opponents base their opinions on race, U.S president Barack Obama is in today’s WCL spotlight for a different reason.

Never before has a politician, nor leader of a nation, utilised social networking tools, as well, a political tool.

Barack Obama may only be 9 months or so in office, but in that time his office has made hundreds of posts on Facebook and Twitter urging the public to get behind his administration’s policies.

Now this is obviously not Mr Obama himself tweeting away on his notebook at 3 in the morning, he has his PR machine to do all this for him. However these things do need to get the approval and I’m sure that Obama realised the potential for these tools long before he took the presidential oath.

As a user of Facebook and Twitter and a fan of the president himself, it wasn’t long before I started following his tweets and updates.

I wasn’t at all surprised when I saw that every single post under his name was endorsing policy and bills that his office wanted to see go through. What did I expect to see? Mr Obama telling us “Barack Obama just finished 300 sit-ups in the oval office”?

Most recently, there has been an influx of tweets about the new health care reform that Obama wants to put through. This is his flagship policy this year and possibly a bill that will define his first term. That is, if it goes through of course.

This is where social networking comes into play. Obama has already used YouTube excessively to convey his views and inform the public about how he wants to transform the nation. The president has never been at a loss for words when addressing an audience in person and he (or more accurately, his office) is never at a loss when social media is concerned as well. The inspiration for today’s post came when I stumbled upon yet another health care reform post on Facebook which urged all Facebook users to get on Twitter and voice their endorsement of the proposed reforms to health care.


The post, asking people on Twitter to ask their members of congress to vote for health care reform, is a form of directly calling on the public to get involved with policy.

However, is this a good sign from the administration? Is it a sign of confidence when the president will resort to using a social networking tool to get the public to help him push a law through congress? He’s also assuming that every congressional member is going to be using Twitter (but then again he’d probably be right).

It is a desperate measure, in my opinion. And I do believe it to be slightly tacky in its delivery. However recent research has shown that Facebook as a social networking site is considered slightly more high-brow than other sites such as Myspace – it’s almost an entirely different demographic. So in fact, the post could have been a lot worse if it were to pop up on anything else other than Facebook or Twitter.

Twitter, considered by many to be a professional networking tool, and also by many others to be a tacky time-waster, may be seen as another desperate resort by the president.

Then again, the flip side to this argument would be that the presidents State of the Union addresses are pretty much another form of what is happening on Facebook and Twitter. It’s only that Television is a more mainstream and credible medium that the public are more accepting of the messages conveyed to them.

Youtube is no different: it’s the president, making a speech, at the public, on video, to an audience. What difference is there other than the NBC or ABC logo in the corner of the screen and thousands of dollars to pay for the address.

Not that I know much about American politics, I don’t claim to know much, Australian politics is more my specialty, however I would imagine that the cost alone to run a public address by the president of the United States wouldn’t be cheap.

Social networking is a cost-effective and easy way for the administration to produce a message to an audience. They may not gain the size of audience that a television address would gain however, but they are saving tax dollars for where they are needed a lot more: health care reform.

We’re already seeing other world leaders and politicians using social media as a political tool. In the future we will be inundated with messages and policy endorsements, especially around election time. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it will get those uninformed people into engagement with what is going on in their country. It’s always great to see people suddenly become concerned about who is leading their nation and what policy drives their leaders. This creates more social change and further increases social justice taking place.


One Response to “Social Networking Tools = Political Tools”

  1. Tomaz Lasic September 17, 2009 at 4:32 am #

    Well, McLuhan had a point all those years ago didn’t he: “The medium IS the message.” ?

    Power flows. We all have it. We all use it. It is not hierarchical either and social media makes it less so.

    But if we don’t critically ask: What is the message? Who benefits? at all times, we are kidding ourselves with social or other media (one could argue that all media is by its nature social but let’s not digress…) as levers of power. If appearing on YouTube doesn’t change or perhaps even worsens things on the ground but merely appears to do so to be hip’n’trendy, then I am not interested.

    Here is an interesting take on Obama’s speech by a good friend in USA

    and a sincere one by a principal in a US school

    And what a prolific blogger you are too Simon, well done 🙂

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