At any given moment, someone is using a social media account to post a piece of political commentary on the Internet. Discourse has been a part of the political process from the earliest days of established government. It is in our nature to want to understand the world around us. In days long past only prestigious political scholars were able to have their message easily heard by the masses. Everyone else discussed politics with their closest friends and sometimes among their local community at large. It still remained that unless you were in high level politics, nobody was likely to hear your thoughts on the political state of your country outside of your inner circle.
The rise of social media has opened the door for political discussion wider than ever before. Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter allow people to talk about the issues of the day in real time with anyone willing to listen anywhere in the world. Voices that were once difficult to hear can now speak with the click of a mouse. This begs the question: What role does social media play in politics today?
Social media clearly allows people to discuss and organize in ways that they have never been able to do before. A prime example of this phenome is the Egyptian Uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak from the Egyptian presidency in February 2011. Even a decade before the uprising, it would have been difficult for people to organize into mass protests for fear of government authorities cracking down on their desire to protest perceived injustices. One can argue that the current situation has hardly improved life in Egypt but there is no denying that the main reason that the mass protests successfully took place was due to the use of Twitter to inform people on where to meet. The effectiveness of Twitter became so prevalent, government blackouts on cellphone service have now become a reality in other protest attempts such as those of the Green Movement in Iran.
The other side of the coin of social media can be seen in incidents such as what happened to disgraced Former Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY) who destroyed his political career with a single private message with a photo on Twitter. The ability to quickly connect with anyone in the world can backfire on even the most seasoned politician. Politicians behaving badly is hardly new to the world but in a world of instant communication, it is harder than ever for them to keep illicit activities secret.
Social media has the power to bring revolutions high and to humble politicians. Although we are only just beginning to understand the larger impact that social media has in the politician world, one thing is clear, it has shredded boundaries to create a new precedent for for the distribution of knowledge and communication.
What role do you think social media plays in 21st century politics? Leave a comment and let us know.