Yesterday I attended a debate held on Campus that delved into how social media affects politics. The debate was geared towards discussing the pros and cons of social media and opinions were split amongst the guest speakers.
MSP for Aberdeen Donside and Minister for Childcare and Early Years in the Scottish Parliament Mark McDonald, along with Stuart Donaldson, MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, and Piotr Teodorowski, a member of the Scottish Youth Parliament, debated to 180 school pupils. The event was in accordance with the ESRC Festival of Social Science and it asked the question ‘Is social media good for politics?’ The timing of this debate is fitting as the results on who will become the next American President is just hours away.
At the start of the debate a poll was taken within the room on whether the audience felt that social media was good for politics, 86% said yes.
The YES group
Those that were in favour of social media use within politics discussed the benefits that social media provides.
Dr Ian McLeod was in favour of social media and stated he believed it was good for politics. He suggested that social media levels the playing field for improving the culture of political engagement and that it allowed humour to be involved in the process, making politics a bit more interactive and no so overbearing. He also believes that social media is great for online campaigns and generating interest. His stance was that it is not the medium that is to blame for social media being the problem but it’s the message.
Mark McDonald MSP argued that social media is an enhancement for politics however does not think it is perfect. He stated that social media keeps politicians in the loop instead of being out of touch and lets the constituents see into the ‘window of the life you occupy’. He also found it allows the smaller facts to be put out to the public such as changes happening within a community which are not always publicised in traditional media.
Stuart Donaldson MP argued that social media is a valuable tool. He believes he can get better engagement with his followers and inform them on the work he is doing. Stuart stated it is great for engaging with a younger audience to get them interested in politics. He claimed there were 5 types of people who use social media: politicians, journalists, voters, special interest groups and trolls.
Piotr Teodorowski from the Scottish Youth Parliament thought that social media was an excellent tool. He believes that social media can be used to engage with politicians and people can challenge them on important issues.
Dr Elizabeth Tait went on to sum up why social media is good for politics and how it really influenced the public to vote.
The NO group
There were many arguments aimed towards social media being negative for politics, Dr Graeme Baxter led the debate. His statement was that social media was sometimes attributed to political job losses and that’s why politicians are not eager to communicate with the public on social media. He also stated that 99.6% of the public are just talking to each other rather than the politicians themselves and that only 13% of the attendees there said they had spoken one on one to an actual politician.
Professor Sarah Pedersen also spoke about her views of social media and how she finds it unhelpful to politics. She explained how trolling and abuse was a serious issue when it comes to social media. The stance was that social media can influence threats and negativity and that trolling can be very serious at times. Trolling in politics has ranged from commenting on Alex Salmond’s eyebrows to a situation where Jess Phillips put forward a bill to have women on £10 bank notes within England and as a result was threatened by the public.
Professor Simon Burnett argued social media was unhelpful also, referring to the Scottish Independence No campaign and how social media never really enhances a campaign it just opens up door for judgement, trolling and abuse.
After the debate the audience were asked to state their opinion once more on whether social media is good for politics and the results were that 82% of people felt that it was good for politics.
This debate was a great chance for a younger audience to find out about social media and its effect on politics. It was helpful to find out how the public voice can be heard and interpreted through sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
This debate was so important and was a great reflection on how social media can influence the masses, especially at such an important time with the American election happening.
How social media has impacted the US election
After reading about how social media has effected the American election I discovered some interesting points which actually linked with yesterday’s debate. In the US they find that social media is the most helpful tool when it comes to finding information on the election and that 73% of Americans are on social media (CIO from IDG 2016). Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton do use social media to try and promote their campaigns but it is the supporters that may influence the public opinion. However, does this mean that it is helpful to politics? Social media allows like-minded people to contact each other and express their views but the public may be subject to bias. Social media is considered the most important tool in the millennium generation (CIO from IDG 2016). Social media does however, expose people to many different political views in different formats which could range from formal to humorous.