As technological advances continually change our media and political landscape, how we use and respond to the rapid updates and upgrades is also evolving.
It’s no secret that technology affects our political beliefs. As technology evolves, so does the way we get information and engage with politicians and other voters. While town hall meetings and televised debates still play a role, social media, live video, and other technologies are now changing the game.
A More Direct Connection
Social media may be the cause of some of the biggest changes in the way we think about politics. As opposed to having to go through traditional media channels, politicians now speak directly to the people through their Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and other social media profiles. Social media allows voters to interact directly with politicians in a very public way.
In the last presidential election, Donald Trump famously used his Twitter to express his views — sometimes to the apparent surprise of others on his campaign. No longer do politicians have to go through their campaign managers, media spokespeople or give interviews to journalists to get something off their chest. They can go right to social media.
Our social feeds may affect our political views because of the content our friends’ post and the conversations we have. If a majority of our online friends are of a certain political viewpoint, and we get our news from social media, we’ll be exposed to that outlook more and may even manage to mostly avoid the opposing point of view. Social media can create an echo chamber.
More — and Constant — Info
The Internet is always on, and, once something gets posted, it never goes away – especially if you’re a political candidate. Plus, almost everyone now has a camera, video recorder and Internet connection in their pocket at all times, which allows them to easily and immediately share what they see.
Politicians now have to assume pretty much anything they do could end up being recorded and posted online. Once people start sharing that content, it spreads extraordinarily quickly. It’s not uncommon to see YouTube videos of politicians that reveal the difference between a recent speech and an older one to expose how a politician might have contradicted themselves.
Sometimes, even things that politicians say or do in private can end up in the spotlight. Just in the most recent presidential election, there were several examples of this.
Russia was accused of organizing hacks against Democratic political organizations and leaking documents to the public to influence the election. One of the main issues dogging Hilary Clinton involved her sending sensitive information from a private email address, which left it open to potentially falling into the wrong hands.
When participants in a recent study were asked to describe what they heard in the media about political candidates in the past week, the top topic for Hilary Clinton was her email.
More Choice of Media
The Internet provides people with more choice about the content they want to see. Instead of watching whatever news story is on TV, they can scroll through endless options on websites and social media to find exactly the story they want to read.
This could either lead to more informed voters or one-sided media consumption. It depends on how people use it. If people search out content with varied viewpoints and different analyses, they may end up with a more well-rounded picture of recent events. If they only choose content that aligns with their personal views, what they see will reinforce those views without challenging them.
The Internet diffuses some of the media’s power to choose who gets public attention. If a candidate doesn’t get to debate on TV or be interviewed on a newscast, they can still reach people online. For example, when 2016 presidential candidate Jill Stein wasn’t included in a televised debate, she took to Facebook, Periscope and Twitter to answer debate questions anyway — and in real time.
More Sophisticated Marketing
Technology is also allowing political campaigns to more effectively market their candidates to voters. Although traditional marketing techniques like television ads are still used, politicians can also take advantage of newer digital marketing techniques such as social media, blogging and SEO.
These marketing methods allow candidates to more effectively target their advertising to people who are likely to vote for them. They can even target campaigning to specific voters. Campaign workers can learn a lot about someone from their online presence, including their political affiliation, the issues that are important to them, and even their recent thoughts on certain candidates.
Armed with this info, campaigns can then send out emails and create social media ads tailored to those findings and even send a campaign worker who goes door to door with that information so they know how best to engage each specific voter. Artificial intelligence could even be used to sift through this data about voters, and used to craft campaign strategies custom-made for particular voters.
Tech as a Political Issue
Technology doesn’t just affect our political beliefs indirectly. It’s also become an important political issue itself in relation to cybersecurity and the need to support technological innovation to help solve a myriad of economic, environmental, health, and other types of problems.
Amid investigations into whether Russian hackers influenced the American election, President Trump recently signed an executive order aimed at improving cybersecurity in the U.S. Trump’s Homeland Security adviser, Tom Bossert, has said that online security is now a matter of national security.
The order was designed to prevent hackers from infiltrating the networks of business, private citizens, the government itself, and the electric grid. Protection against hacking events is important, since they have the potential to do serious damage. A well-coordinated, sophisticated attack could cause a widespread electrical outage or shut down the networks of federal agencies.
With another executive order, President Trump established a new council that will focus on technology and seek to improve how the federal government uses it. Although the federal government likes to promote advanced technology, they don’t always use it themselves. This order seeks to reverse that trend, and, if it’s successful, it could potentially lead to a more efficient and effective government.
Technology has made the way we engage in politics increasingly more direct and instantaneous. It’s given us more choices in the media we consume, and provided new avenues for politicians to share their messages. The growing amount of data we have available to use has allowed candidates to run more complex and personalized political campaigns.
As technology continues to progress, we’ll likely have more media choices, more direct communication, and collect more data to use in increasingly remarkable ways. Expect technological innovation to come about in the near future that will revolutionize our political process. As politics and technology continue to evolve alongside each other, the only way to know how it will play out is to wait and see.