How social media is engaging a new audience in political discussion

June 16, 2017 10:11 pm Published by

Last week’s election indicated an exciting new landscape opening up in politics and communication, with traditional heavyweight influencers such as tabloids finding their impact countered by new movements in social media.

An impressive 72% youth voter turnout demonstrated millennial commitment to shaping their futures, arguably inspired by some excellent communication initiatives which met them on their home turf- Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Hashtags such as #youthvote, #youngvotesmatter and #voteforchange created a fast moving, inclusive conversation which Labour managed to harness- motivating new and apathetic voters with positive messaging. Social media has become a new frontier for political discourse, providing minority voices for the first time with an easily accessible platform to diversify political discourse away from traditional mainstream media.

The main political parties have both attempted to adapt to this changing environment with different levels of success. While Conservatives focused their resources on YouTube videos and Snapchat ads, Labour focused on Facebook and Twitter, where young supporters chose to spread their views through memes created independently and distributed organically. This was the first British election that memes, part of the tide that carried Donald Trump to victory, gained traction this side of the Atlantic, playing a huge role in stoking and maintaining the fervent support among young leftwing voters.

Memes represent a new incarnation for satire, one which, for the first time, is not controlled by institutions or critics. Now, anonymous kids in bedrooms can create something that represents a popular zeitgeist that will spread as far as it is able to capture imagination, often utilizing humour and popular culture references. This can be really effective when using positive messaging, for example the ‘playful polemic’ of the UK left, where gentle satire was used to undermine the Conservative maxim of ‘Strong and Steady’.

Jeremy Corbyn’s core supporters utillised memes effectively and succeeded in highlighting the differences between their leader and May, shifting perceptions of Labour’s potential. Grassroots activism has always been a core element of Corbyn’s political values, so though the memes were often irreverent, their authenticity chimed well with his message of an approachable alternative to traditional politics. Memes such as ‘Corbyn or May’, ‘The Absolute Boy’ and ‘Smooth Corbyn’ showed his human side, while Conservatives sought to get their message out via YouTube adverts preceding content from music to wrestling videos. YouTube and Snapchat have a huge audience among young adults, a group who are less likely to be registered to vote, and therefore very worth engaging with to bring new blood to politics.

Far from the apathetic and lazy stereotype of milllennials the media can often present, the election showed that young people have huge capacities for engagement, creativity and caring strongly about politics, community and their future. Memes and social media connected with this demographic due to the visual, immediate impact and it’s ability to communicate complex personal views in witty, irreverent ways. Political commentary and public reaction can now happen in real time, where anyone can get involved and have their say, rather than waiting for the 10 o clock news or the morning papers. Timely responses are more important than ever, as is understanding how to connect with milllennials authentically through their preferred media.

 

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