Digital Didn't Win It But It Did Shape the Campaign
The author highlights that while the use of social media was not strong in the 2015 UK general election, neither was it a 'passive bystander' in the outcome.
The peaks in poll-related social media activity were tied to election milestones such as leaders' debates, major policy launches and the run-up to polling day. But it was hard to discern, he argues, whether this activity – despite attempts by political parties to manipulate social media trends – was positive or negative for candidates and parties.
The author argues that most of the activity from political parties was 'pre-programmed' rather than spontaneous with both major parties and their candidates using 'social media as a battering ram of pre-prepared pronouncements, videos – which they vainly hoped would somehow go viral; they didn’t – and a range of choreographed attacks on the opposition'.
The most effective use of social media was by activist groups, particularly organisations that sought to get people out to vote, he says.
The author argues that while on the surface the use of social media and internet-related tools by the major parties did not seem to have a major impact, the use of behind-the-scenes digital-driven campaigning that was hyper-focussed on individual voters, rather than broad demographics, made a difference in marginal seats.
'What this highlights for me is that the use of the internet in elections is still relatively new, unregulated and too uncritically accepted. In future we should only promote and trust voter engagement tools that commit to code transparency and to being fully auditable,' he concludes.
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