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Social Media Politics: Power to the Provoker

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 25/03/2016 Kelsey Clark
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America's national dialogue now has a 140-character limit thanks to the rise of social media politics.
The "always on" election is officially in full swing, with GOP frontrunner Donald Trump knighted as the spokesman for a new kind of presidential campaign.
Budget proposals, campaign promises and personalities are now filtered through one-sentence tweets and 15-second Snapchat stories. Campaigns are ended and reputations slandered with a single Facebook post. Entire news cycles subsist on the ebb and flow of any one candidate's Twitter feed.
These new modes of political mobilization engage new audiences, tailor elections to an Internet generation and fundamentally change the way we interact with politics.
They also innately champion the most emotive, visceral voices in the field, leaving the mild-mannered and politically correct candidates out to dry.
Headlines or it didn't happen
Social media politics are now an unavoidable reality for serious candidates, as well as a prized messaging tool in the campaign arsenal of many staffers.
But the fact of the matter is, jaded users and news outlets are prone to prioritizing sensationalized stories, blatant entertainment dressed as campaign fodder and viscerally emotional rhetoric in an attempt to cut through the clutter on these oversaturated social networks.
More and more, it's the blunt, confrontational and provocative candidates who get noticed and rewarded - whether it be through media coverage, an uptick in Twitter followers or a commanding lead in the polls. These mediums reduce politics to a single, power-packed tweet designed to leave an impression - good or bad.
"Social media favors the bitty over the meaty, the cutting over the considered," said Politico's Nicholas Carr when reflecting on social media's role in politics.
"It also prizes emotionalism over reason. The more visceral the message, the more quickly it circulates and the longer it holds the darting public eye."
This leaves PR teams, social media managers and the candidates themselves sparring over how to best capture those elusive three-seconds of attention on the Internet. Like it or not, it's those that can spark an emotional reaction via emojis that ultimately build a successful presidential campaign.
Like two-toned dresses and pizza rats before them, winning politicians are now required to inspire hope, fear, joy, happiness, outrage and excitement in the minds of their online followers, all while imparting a respected and substantive campaign message.
A new political power struggle
Tech-savvy politicians can circumvent the media mayhem altogether. With the power of Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat in the palms of their small hands, any candidate can technically pilfer messaging control away from party leadership and into their Twitter feed.
We've seen this phenomenon unfold with seasoned social media veteran Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, with the latter going as far as gamifying his social networks to drum up support for his campaign.
But the real king of social media is, of course, the former reality TV star, who has effectively used his social networks as an extension of his "Make America Great Again" campaign, provoking media buzz and daily headlines in the process.
Meanwhile, token GOP "nice guy" Jeb Bush failed to amass any real support, despite millions of dollars in backing, a politically correct Twitter feed and the GOP establishment by his side. With his resignation, America entered a new era of politics in which the political elite doesn't always reign supreme.
While utilizing technology to bolster campaign morale and fire cheap shots at opponents is nothing new, problems arise when you look at the type of content that typically flourishes on the platforms of today's election.
"Under the old system, scathing attacks on individuals and ethnic groups would scare away voters. But on Twitter, insulting people and throwing rhetorical bombs doesn't cost you followers. It usually gains you followers," points out CNN's Van Jones.
"Trump is not breaking the rules. He is playing by a new set of rules. These are rules that everyday Americans have been living under (and adapting to) for more than a decade. The American pundit class, apparently, is late to this kind of a party."
The so-called "rules" we've adapted to were written by the reality TV elite, who operate under the assumption that less is never more. The same tactics that led the Real Housewives to fame and fortune have the power to lead Trump to the White House.
Our take
The question we should be asking ourselves is, "Who do we want representing our country?" A ball-busting, fiery figurehead from the world of business and media or an experienced, surefire candidate from the safe world of politics?
Whatever the answer may be, it's worth remembering that the content that rises to the surface of your Twitter feed isn't always positive, or even important. The use of social media in politics may return power not to the people, but to the few that know how to manipulate it best.

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