Posted by John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum on Thursday, October 8, 2015
Social media is hard. That’s the perspective most political candidates have today. Twitter thrives on instant dissemination of political views, and tweets that are more controversial and politically incorrect rocket to the top of the trending charts. This presents a challenge for candidates who must rely on social media “buzz” to disseminate their views to a larger group of people, but don’t want to alienate voters with questionable statements. This phenomenon and the impact of social media on politics were discussed in the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum on October 8 by three fascinating panelists: Nicholas Carr, author of The Glass Cage: How Our Computers Are Changing Us; John Della Volpe, Director of Polling at the Institute of Politics and Founder & CEO of SocialSphere, Inc.; and Mindy Finn, Founder & President of Empowered Women and Director of New Media for Mitt Romney’s 2008 campaign.
The conversation began, as so many of today’s political discussions, with a question about Donald Trump and the effectiveness of his Twitter account. I personally find his account extremely entertaining. It is full of invectives against the media, public figures and politicians. And it’s chock-full of phrases such as “dummy,” “nut job,” “lightweight” and “idiot,” to name just a few. He routinely gets upwards of 1,000 retweets, consistently more than any other presidential candidate. However, none of the panelists think his account is a very effective use of new media. They saw it as reminiscent of a celebrity than a serious candidate for president. Panelists extensively criticized his brash statements but praised his authenticity on social media.
Authenticity gets to the heart of why social media is so challenging. While most politicians stick to clear talking points to avoid gaffes, people crave authenticity wherever they can find it. Social media provides the most direct connection between the political class and the people: voters are only one screen away from instant communication with candidates. It provides a venue for candidates such as Trump to thrive and those such as Romney, who allegedly required 22 staffers to approve every tweet, to appear stiff and inauthentic. However, all of these discrepancies revolve around perceptions of social media accounts and not reality. As Mindy Finn noted, “None of the social media platforms are great for political discourse.”
In an event with such a clear question in the title, I was curious to see if the three panelists would provide a definitive answer. They did not; however, I learned a lot from their perspectives on the ways social media has been used by political campaigns in the past and its promise for the future.
Watch the full conversation on social media and politics: