Technology continues to change the interactive nature and social strategies of presidential campaigning. It’s not just about knowing the facts and using politically savvy rhetoric anymore. In fact, that seems to be the least of concerns for many candidates.
Americans first took note of the influence technology had on voters in September of 1960 during the first live televised presidential debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. The famous story is that those who heard the debate via radio found Nixon to be the winner, while those who viewed the televised debate gave the win to Kennedy due to his calm, confident and “authentic” nature.
Obviously there were no cell phones or social media apps like Facebook, Snapchat, or Twitter at the time.
The simple fact is, as technology grows, so does the importance of appearance and word choice for political candidates. Today, the pressure is on not only to sound genuine but to appear authentic, trustworthy and “presidential.”
The fairly recent technology that has emerged over the last 20 years has enabled voters to literally like and follow candidates on social media. It also created a space for opinions, dialogue and commentary, influencing an even wider audience than in the past. If an individual engages in social media regularly it almost makes politics impossible to outright ignore.
With that being said, 2016 Democratic presidential hopefuls Secretary Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders are well aware of the power social media holds and have each attempted to use it to the most of their advantage.
Sometimes it works out positively, but many times the reactions of voters take an unpredicted turn, leaving candidates looking like they’re desperate to connect or that they’re “out of touch” with voters.
Last year, Clinton tried to connect with younger voters when she tweeted: “How does your student debt loan make you feel? Tell us in 3 emojis or less.” The responses were not the most optimistic or supportive.
Many students replied with sarcastic memes or pleads for Clinton to “just stop.”
As you probably already know, creating a respected social media image is a real talent and involves constantly creating and updating your online image. The key is to seem authentic, and Clinton missed the mark on this one.
Perhaps Sanders’ ability to appeal to social media users with his large support on apps like Instagram and Twitter is why his support among younger voters continues to remain high.
He’s continued to lead with follower counts on apps such as Instagram and Facebook, and even received the most liked post of the week on Instagram last month, among presidential candidates. However, Hillary Clinton does take the lead in followers on Twitter.
But followers are only a part of the equation when it comes to social media personalities. Candidates realize in the new age of social media, every tiny action is documented. Every facial expression, slight remark and visit to the “mom and pop” shop is being closely watched, judged and evaluated by millions, almost instantly.
Last week, Clinton decided to ride the subway during the peak of rush-hour traffic to exhibit her authenticity as a real New Yorker. Many were supportive, but many were also unfazed and even made fun of the fact that it took her several tries to swipe her Metro Card. As you’ve probably already witnessed, reactions are usually unpredictable, although candidates hope for the best.
It’s also common for teens and young adults to create trends, memes and jokes about candidates for their own comedic or political reasons.
From my observations, many young people have created a sort of ongoing joke between Clinton and Sanders that can sometimes take a sexist tone. This is evident from the circulating Bernie vs. Hilary memes, generally featuring Sanders as the winner on issues such as Harry Potter, “sexting” and Star Wars.
It’s great voters can utilize the technology of our time that enables us to judge nearly every public aspect of a candidate.
But we’re in a time that social media has created a way for candidates and their campaign team to “create” an image they think you would want to see.
Thus, it’s important voters take note of the propaganda and strategic messages being put forward by these candidates so they can make an honest decision and focus on the true values of candidates, rather than focusing on the social media personalities their campaigns have created.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Gage Skidmore’s Flickr Account.
Racquel Royer is a freshman journalism major and may be reached at Royer.firstname.lastname@example.org.