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Social media has just about infiltrated every aspect of our lives.
It follows us at work, it’s creeping into our dinner table conversations, and now it’s even fueling the daily news cycle.
It has become commonplace now, for Canadians to expect that every election some candidate or another will have their dirty social media laundry aired out in the public square.
Nearly every day, some political war room or news agency announces the latest controversial comment, post, or photo shared by one politician or another.
On the surface of things, it might be a good thing that politicians can be held more accountable for their past beliefs and comments. In a sense, you could say that it promotes transparency.
However, it doesn’t take long to realize the unintended consequences of mixing social media and politics could prove to be disastrous for the modern political order we have grown so accustomed to.
First of all, we must admit that the entire arena of politics has transformed and that we can’t go back to the way things were.
Once upon a time, if you were seeking election for office, you would virtually only have to face the scrutiny of your constituents or the national media if you’re running federally. Today, the arena has expanded to include the potential scrutiny of the entire world.
Anybody with a computer and some know-how could ruin your political career and you probably will never find out who came after you when it’s all over.
Social media has radically transformed elections into global entertainment events. While the Canadian election takes place, Canadians are tuning into Brexit, they’re watching the democratic primaries, and not too long ago, we were paying attention to the EU elections.
This opening up of the political discourse has proven to be an insurmountable challenge for traditional politics. It not only threatens the concept of sovereignty and nationhood, by opening up a country’s political fate to the potential of foreign interference, it also undermines the very real and direct outcomes elections have on the citizens of a nation.
People can jeer on or cheer the fate of politicians in other countries with absolutely no stake in the game. To our minds, an election has become virtual, most of our participation in the dialogue happens online, and even the news is reporting on things which occur in a virtual space.
This phenomenon can’t be simply brushed under the rug because its tentacles reach the very electoral consensus democracies are founded upon. If anyone can participate in my nation’s elections and seemingly influence them, what is my significance as a voter?
For those people who simply carry on as if the very nature of politics hasn’t changed, they will unavoidably be steamrolled over by the new reality.
One unintended consequence of this new arena, is that social media has exasperated the Machiavellian aspect of politics. Only those who have the cunning, know-how, or duplicity to hide their true intentions or beliefs will be able to participate in democracy.
Instead of opening up politics, it has effectively made it even more difficult for an average person to participate in the process. Think about your own social media activity? If you were to run for office, would you be worried that something you once commented or said online could be used against you?
Arguably, nobody is perfect, and the average Canadian would be quickly filtered out from the opportunity to participate in government.
The truth is, most people don’t have public relations agents or can’t afford to hire a company to clean their internet footprint before running for office. So, who do we have left?
The new arena only empowers those who have the means and politically conscious upbringing to be groomed into a role of power. The politicians of the future will have a hermetically sealed social media profile, sterilized to sell a persona.
To put it simply it benefits only those interested in power and disadvantages anybody with good intentions.