social-mediaSocial media can be something of a double-edged sword for politicians. Obviously, here at Debating Europe we rely heavily on social media (and, if you aren’t already, you really should be following us on Facebook and Twitter), so we want to encourage European policy-makers and citizens to take to this form of communication with enthusiasm. However, for every President Obama breaking records with his bazillions of followers, there are thousands of examples of politicians very publicly falling flat on their digital faces.

The EU has plenty of experience in this regard, from the European Commission being accused of racism and sexism in its YouTube videos,  to the British Liberal Democrat MEP being reprimanded by his party over a badly-timed tweet last week, to the Flemish MEP who appeared in a decidely odd video on YouTube in 2006 (a video that was recently dug up by intrepid bloggers). These kind of gaffes, however, have always been a part of politics. Does social media bring anything new to democracy? How is social media changing politics?

We recently had the chance to speak to the Obama campaign’s social media strategist, Facebook’s Adam Conner, during a Friends of Europe dinner debate. We started off by asking for his reaction to a comment from Christos, who argued that:

When it comes to receiving advice, our leaders may find it better to listen to a housewife, [rather than] a detached-from-reality financier [who only wants to] make profit and practice what he was taught in Harvard… So, if I was our leaders, I would pay more attention to what the people have to say in social media and blogs…

Which begs the question, how much do politicians really pay attention to what is being written about them in blogs and on social networks? Does Obama ever dive down into his Facebook comments, or does that way lie madness?

Next, we had an interesting point made in the comments by Samo:

Social media has a great potential in bringing democracy to every citizen’s home, but we first need to motivate people to participate.

Even if people are listening to your message online, how do you actually motivate people to participate in the ‘real world’? How can you translate clicking a ‘Like’ or ‘Share’ button online into actually going out and voting or engaging in politics offline?

Our next comment came from Nikolai, who was optimistic about the potential for social media to positively affect politics:

[Social media puts pressure on governments] almost to the point of removing civil society/NGOs and mainstream media from the debate… [Informing] the great unwashed masses directly is by far the best method to keep both traction and momentum with any policy.

But is Nikolai being overly-optimistic when he argues that civil society, NGOs and the mainstream media could be removed from the debate by social media?

Finally, we had a related comment sent in by Lazaros, who argued that:

The emergence of social media has played a huge role in discovering what is called the ‘real’ reality and not what we were fed by the media till recently.

But how do you define what is the ‘real’ reality? Isn’t there a danger that Lazaros and his friends and contacts will just create a mutually-reinforcing bubble online, where he only talks to people that share his political views and agree with him?

What do YOU think? How is social media changing politics? Is it offering us new ways to interact with, influence and keep watch over our politicians? Or is online ‘slacktivism’ replacing physical campaigning and political activism? Does social media provide an alternative source of news? Or does it just create mutually-reinforcing bubbles of friends and contacts, who shut out different opinions and beliefs? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.

Debating Europe will be attending the 6th International Conference on Computers, Privacy and Data Protection in Brussels this week, so let us know if you have any questions on privacy or data protection that you’d like answered.

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – European Parliament

37 comments Post a commentComment


  1. Ivanka Ruskova

    I think that the medea is made and sirve polititians so have to made our mind and try to find a indepemdent and a free of controle medea by polititians…

  2. Christos Mouzeviris

    as a blogger i believe that social media, if of any quality and substance are offering an alternative point of view and information untainted by the interests of the big media corporations that have certainly an agenda…. unfortunatelly there are many social media and blogs that are populist and of no use at all… it is up to the readers to decide , just like deciding which program on television is good for them or not..

  3. eusebio manuel vestias pecurto

    Eu acho que todos os cidadãos da Europa sejam agentes da mundança e os midias sociais também têm que ser agentes de mundança porque eu considero que a solução só pode ser na Europa

  4. Sandra Riano

    Social Media is definitely a new source of news, depending on the type of news you want.. But it’s for sure complementary to traditional media since it offers more interaction, reactivity, connectivity, etc… Bringing the news to the buzz. I do believe it also helps in the democratic process

  5. Carmen Cimpian

    I think that it’s very hard to keep information from people with the Internet, and we know that information is power, but it’s a double-edged sword, because it can become a a means of manipulation. Let’s hope people know how to read between lines.

  6. IgnoRantJack

    It’s good for politicians to engage with social media, though personally I’d advise them to use it sparingly. Social media’s effect on politics does depend on the sources I think, if the sites we use allow us to live in a bubble of opinion that we’ve selected (or worse, has been selected for us) then we’re in danger of only having our views continually reinforced rather than challenged, discussed and questioned. Without plenty of spaces for debate in social media, just like in reality, you could end up with deep divisions within society.

  7. Jovan Ivosevic

    People get their political news from social networks. Unfortunately, this helps people be less informed because they often get sources of information in their newsfeed which are unreliable and not factually scrutinized by commonly accepted standards of journalism. As a result, people make political choices based on half truths, which they select as their sources of information because they self select to hear points of view from like-minded individuals.

  8. Neag Florin

    I think that social media now, at this moment, is only a a buuble of frinds and contacts. The politicians must find the right way to motivate the active players on social media to became real citizens motivated to go out and vote the politicians that repesent them. I think this is a “must” for every politicians who wants more real implicated citizens.

  9. Hasan Özdemir

    Firsly social media will be able to change politics absoluetly but not yet in my opinion. Secondly i don’t presume it might be influenced on politicians, if any big scandal is not created. Thirdly of course it ensures an alternative news source for everything. Besides it is quite available a news source because it can not check easily. Meanwhile there is the jeopardy of disinformation too but people is an ignorant concerning a lot of news subjects mostly.Therefore intellectual and sophistcated people will conclude almost about all of subjects and a disinformasyon can not influence for a long time.

  10. Albert Saxén

    Oh, absolutely. Well, to hold them accountable, yes, dunno how much they heed it themselves ..but, yes on the news.
    And this brings me to ..this guy. Ob camaign? LOL!! Rotflmao!! Yea, like Obama Love in 2008?
    So much for MSM (mainstream media)..

  11. Albert Saxén

    Jovan, Sir, and what is wrong with likeminded?
    look at CNN, CBS, ABC ..NBC (Olbermann et al)..and that’s supposed to b your standard?
    Dsnt matter where you get it from, listen to yourself.
    Like Christos says. :)
    I mean any news where you switch your mind off is bad ..

    Sandra :p or buzz to the news ..:p

  12. Hasan Özdemir

    İf anybody takes an information only from the likeminded news sources steadily, she/he can be able to manipulate by them easily. Consequently the person will be an autistic or a MP3 player :)

  13. Tiago Mouta

    Social Media Management, as a blogger means that you input thoughts into a worldwide network with almoust instant feedback for good or worse… How does it changes politics!? Well… look throughout the window and see… Many news on mainstream media come from social networks, 24h feeds all around the globe…

  14. Francesco Totino

    Social media are changing politics in two ways and in two times
    1) now becouse give you the chance to express yr ideas , share them with others ..and .. why not?? even realize them if the politician give enough time to the social network
    2) in the future surely social media will be the instrument that completely change the political structure allowing a direct relation betwenn people and politicians without the expensive and obsolete mediation of political parties ,.. to go deeper to these problems take 5 minutes to read my remarks on the matter : Political Parties don’t seem to provide any more a proper Public Policy management. Let’s try to think a new system of representation :
    http://economicsandpolicy.blogspot.it/2012/06/political-parties-dont-seem-to-provide.html
    ciao francesco totino

    http://economicsandpolicy.blogspot.it/

  15. Georgi Hrisstof

    The Golden Mean is the basis for the formation and action strategies from short term (time). Good analysis and approach. Version decision. Liberal removal of difficult positions. Overeating with freedom, and vice versa, usually alters and blurs any Peacemaker. Controlling individual control does not seem important, but the company running. Knowledge base is social media, security, and form is the political echelon, performance and utility, the institution …

  16. MaXx ICs

    EUROPEAN PARLAMENT NEED one more PRESIDENT for each european country .. One president grec one UE . ONE president romanian one from UE . like this all what they do just with accord of European Union

    • Marc

      No the European parliament needs to be abolished and powers returned to national parliaments where they belong.

  17. Marc

    Internet has been so important to opponents of the Eurosoviet Union like me. Before we were all force fed Eurosoviet propaganda and hardly ever got any dose of reality.

    Our struggle to restore our democratic governments and free them from the influence of laws made by foreign politicians will continue. And like Soviet dissidents and opponents, our struggle will end victorious no matter how long it takes. I do foresee dark days ahead for us as politicians seem absolutely determined to bail out more bankers at our expense.

  18. Cristian Zarnescu

    ” European Comission, unelected by the people, unremovable, and they are the Government of Europe”

    “Most of the laws they are made in your country every year, come directly from this unelected European Cimissioners, …. the politians want more power … the people are asking what’s happening with our democracy…”

    “Been governed by Unelected birocrats, it’s totally against any concept of democracy…”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1rfNlJMsFw

  19. waqar khan

    Well it depends upon where you belong to!! Europe may be lucky to have internet access to more than 99% of the people,where freedom of expression is loved and respected.However,the Governance system belongs to First wave era of Tofflers,social media operates in the Third wave era of Tofflers. this incompatibility is bound to create its own challenges.
    In developing world and specially Africa,the change is coming at a fast pace,with politicians not realising the strategic impact of this tectonic shift,so we already have the Arab spring and one state structure after another falling like dominoes. Dictatorships and semi dictatorships make it even harder,with politicians living in there own logic bubble,the youth has started migrating online,so we find one state with two people living in different logic bubbles and operating at different frequencies. The developing world has to realise the importance of impact of social media first,you cannot fence international borders against ideas and opinions,you have to manage it. so the resulting chaos leading to funny happenings in North Africa,Middle east and in central Africa.Since we live in a global village,this chaos in developing world will ultimately reach the shores of the developed World,so need for a Global Action.

  20. IRAM AHMAD

    no doubt media is back bone of every society and its plays a vital role in its development.

  21. Just Got Europe

    Social media is clearly the future of democracy, this website proves it! Everyone gets there say, you don’t even have to register to vote and let’s face it its only a small part of the population (the mostly older part) that vote anyway, it is nice to see that this issues with democracy has been resolved in a manner of speaking, this resolution achieves this in such a way that young people will actually get involved with politics and in a natural way where they don’t even have to think about it.

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