The influence of media on the individual is undeniable. It enhances our ability to make decisions, connects us with the world, and seeks to make our society more transparent. For these reasons is what makes media ecologies so utterly threaded in our political democracy. The media is commonly referred to as the “fourth state” a political watchdog for the people, that checks the actions of public officials (Errington, W & Miragliotta, N2011, pp. 8).

The newspaper could be considered the first source of media in this informing view. However, the greatest change to the political system wasn’t until television became widely available in the 1960s. The political televised debates, news cycles, and political advertising captivated the masses(Comstock, G & Scharrer, E 2005, pp. 71).

However in the new online age of social media, TV no longer appeals broadly, social media is now the growing contender to affect our political system. New media like social might, however, lend itself to decentralized power structures but the old hierarchical model will probably remain for some time (Errington W & Miragliotta N, 2011, pp. 178).

Australian Politics With Social Media

Australian politicians have started to become entrenched in social media as a political tool. Sam Dastyari has spent $20,000 dollars of taxpayers money in one day on four social media videos. Two on the Bill Bus touring around Tasmania in the 2016 federal election, and two were starring of his children, including a piece mocking national tax avoidance.

Adam Bandt has spent $9,000 on three social-videos, one persuading people to volunteer in the lead up to the federal election. Baines (2017) has found there are very little regulations around social media. By-passing the advertising ban, MP’s could use it to stir up an issue on Election Day. One of the most interesting stories in Australian politics on social media was of former NSW premier Mike Baird.

Mike Baird once named “the social media darling” and was famous for using social media to propel himself into the public as a progressive politician. He was famous for using social media for making dad jokes, giving running commentaries on the bachelor, and giving offbeat humour. However, this popularity didn’t last long. With the addition of lock-out laws, and the backflip on the greyhound ban he quickly became the target of thousands of negative comments (Calderwood, K 2016).

From one of the most popular politicians in the country he quickly became despised, inevitably leading him to resign early 2017. The case of Mike Baird certainly highlights some important distinctions. Social media is not a one-way tool, it communicates both ways, we’re able to comment, like, and share content. The original following he may have obtained is now subjected to attacks by anti-Baird groups: hijacking his post, communicating to his following, and continuing to ruin his reputation.

Is Social Media Polarizing The Left And The Right?

Social media has been accused of polarizing politic often containing the left in one series of networks and the right in another. “The left-wing echo chamber” has been the source of many discussions, the main argument being it’s just preaching to the already converted.

A recent report found that following politicians is on the rise. The University of Canberra found that in 2016, 16% followed Australian politicians, and in 2017 20% followed politicians on social media (Murphy K, 2017).

65% said the motivation was to have more fair, and balanced news coverage, removing the lens of the traditional media. It also notes that politicians are becoming more inclined to do announcements from social media rather than news networks, particular examples being Pauline Hanson, and Malcolm Turnbull’s 457-work visa changes.

This issue of social informing has an interesting dichotomy for media scholars, on one hand the media ecologies are growing giving more nodes of information supposedly giving a voter a more informed point of view; however depending on the user’s networks, and following it may be a one-sided view. McNair, Brian, et al(2017, PP.14) writes

Even….with the growth of digital and online platforms which have both increased the number of sources of political information available to citizens, and enhanced opportunities for public participation in mediated political debate, concerns about the functionality of the politics-media relationship remain high on the public agenda.

The grip to the social may be the response to the general dissatisfaction in the news. Only 43.4% said they had complete trust in the news in Australia from The News & Media Research Centre’s Digital News Report 2016 (McNair, Brian, et al 2017, pp.14). This, however, is not something only happening in Australia. Populist politicians are often going to social media such in the cases of Donald Trump, Jeremy Corbyn, and Berney Sanders.

If we consider the ABC’s coverage of the 2013 federal election, we can consider the percentage of the share of voice ALP 40%, Coalition 39.4%, Green 8.1%, Other 4.8%, PUP 3.3%, Independents 2.5%, KAP 2%(ABC 2013). Smaller parties often don’t get as much coverage, leading them to leverage social media to get their political policies across.

The two parties which are going to leverage this tool the most is parties on the edges of the political spectrum, the leftist egalitarians such as the Green’s here in Australia, and the rightwing conservatives such One Nation, and Corey Bernadi’s Conservatives.

Errington & Miragliotta(2011, pp. 110) have described Australia as copying the U.S presidential system because the traditional media only covers the leaders of the two lead political parties because they are the only ones likely to govern.

In this way, social media could be considered good for democracy. Levelling the playing field for a political share of voice. However social media is heavily moving towards the pay-per-play model, the days of sharing content for free are far-gone.

Facebook sharing rate for an organic (or unpaid) is declining(Boland, B 2014) A consideration for smaller parties to get their message across will have to have a strong digital marketing ability, and careful social strategies. Strong messages that engage voters to click a post will effectively increase the reach.

The US Has Shown The Future

The future of the use of social media in the political sphere may seek to use big data. In 2016 we saw Trump win the presidential election race shocking the world. The key to success to was capturing Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin(Liddy, M & Gourlay, C 2016). The question is still debated how did he capture these seats.

Florida was known for being a swing state. However the other states also know as “the rust belt” which seemed highly unlikely for him to win, he won. Iowa and Ohio hadn’t been won by a Republican since 2004, Pennsylvania not since 1998, and Wisconsin since 1984(Liddy, M & Gourlay, C 2016). One of the key things agreed upon by many commentators is this “missing white voters”, blue-collar workers that worked or had been working industrial jobs in the rust belt.

Cambridge Analytica (Issenberg, S & Green, J 2016) describes them as young disenfranchised new republicans, rural with populist spirit, caring more than other Republicans about law & order, immigration, and wages. For a long period of time during the election, it was considered that Trump had little strategy other than saying what he wanted, tweeting it, and spending very little on advertising.

However, this is far from the truth. A rather complex data strategy was constructed. The database that was largely constructed from scratch is now valued at $36-$112 million US dollars (Issenberg, S & Green, J 2016). Shortly after Trump received the Republican nominations Jared Kushner his son in law quietly set to work to create Project Alamo, enlisting the help of digital marketer Brad Parscale, to build a large scale social-media operation.

Parscale’s was the engine of this campaign using data fed from the RNC, Cambridge Analytica, and their own lists they were able to fundraise $40 million in two weeks after the primaries. With Kushner’s connections, they were able to get advice from Silicon Valley in how to scale the operation. This was something sadly Bernie Sanders struggled at only receiving 26% share of voice of online advertising compared to the rest of Clintons on desktop, and a very low 1% share on mobile (Gardner, M 2016).

…Kushner eventually tipped the states that swung the election. And he did so in a manner that will change the way future elections will be won and lost… Specifically social-media (Bertoni 2016).