Social media’s new foothold

Commentary by

CHRISTOPHER KUSTERA

With only a year and a half until the next presidential elections, social media campaigning has once again reached the forefront of traditional news media’s attention. Social media mean a lot to the average college student. For example, the campus-wide reaction when the city of Scranton finally received a “filter” on the social media app Snapchat was actually stunning. The celerity in which news travels through these outlets is incredible, and somewhat unsettling.

I find it reasonable for both candidates and news outlets to find such popular internet areas intriguing, but one could state that I am a couple elections behind with this story. These media outlets have been around for much longer than this upcoming election and have been used extensively in previous elections. However, one should pay attention to a recent addition to the presidential race, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders. His campaign approach embraces a grassroots movement primarily anchored in online source funding. The New Yorker reported on April 30 in “Welcome to the 2016 Race, Bernie Sanders!” that Sanders rose in the public interest as an individual against the idea of our country being run by a bunch of billionaires. ABC News reported May 3 “Sen. Bernie Sanders Says America Needs ‘Political Revolution’ in 2016” that he was able, through the use of Facebook for online donations, to raise $1.5 million within three days of announcing his campaign, while swearing off the aid of Super PACs, notorious for corporate special interests, for his campaign. I think this is why prevalence of social media now possesses interest once again. Social media have now become a way for third-party candidates and relatively unknown names to catapult into the laps of the voting public without having to spend a fortune.

The prevalence of leaders who have the ability to shake off campaign sponsors who grab attention provides a refreshing take on the political process. I feel that social media also appeal to wide-range public analysis without the filter of lobbying groups and special interests. In addition, it appeals to the voting public (which oftentimes needs a bit of motivation to actually go to the polls) in channels of information that are used frequently each hour. As reported by Jonathan Mahler in The New York Times on May 3, media coverage of the 2016 elections will attempt to utilize Snapchat, one of the most popular apps on the market. I feel that many express a concern that government and politics have merely become a game for the wealthy. Social media, if used in the funding capacities that Sanders intends to use it for, may provide a level playing field.

Hypothetically, Hillary Clinton and some no-name candidate could be on an equal playing field. I know it is incredibly early in the campaign season to see if this trend takes hold, but I see that it has immense amounts of promise.

However, I am also wary of a negative infusing of social media with the political beast. I am not a huge fan of social media’s grip on society as it currently stands, so I don’t know if I want to hand over more territory to these internet behemoths. I don’t particularly want to be in constant communication with each and every candidate (knowing what they had for breakfast or what they Instagrammed for lunch in order to be more relatable). I am also worried about where their campaign contributions will now flow to if less and less money is spent on advertising because of the free forum internet. I also do not know if someone of questionable character will now be able to run a legitimate campaign for the sake of political theater now that social media’s power graciously bestows recognition on any person with an internet connection. Social media appears to have become a much sharper double-edged sword, and I am not sure whether I want to sharpen or break this sword.

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