By Ofra Klein
During Italy’s elections on the 24th and 25th of February, 30% of the votes went to Berlusconi and only 10% to Mario Monti. Surprisingly, about 25% of the voters’ turnout was for Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement. Why is this surprising? Well, for once, Grillo’s Five Star Movement was not set up with the idea of becoming a party. It simply served to attack political wrongdoings. But more surprising is the fact that Grillo hardly held a conventional political campaign. The reason for his popularity is the power of social media politics. To reach his followers, Grillo made extensive use of social media. Nowadays, Grillo has about 1.2 million fans on Facebook and about 992.053 followers on Twitter. Moreover, he created one of the most read blogs worldwide. Earlier this year, Grillo organized a gathering of thousands of people for his Five Star Movement, only by using social media. Not bad for an Italian clown.
In recent movements such as Occupy and the Arab Spring, social media was an important means to mobilize people as political participation took place from a distance. On top of this, more and more political parties and party leaders have discovered the far reaching influence of social media and have set up a Twitter or a Facebook account to spread important information, make announcements and attract supporters in a fast and cheap way, thereby reaching a large audience.
The rise of mass communication is changing politics. Especially younger generations rely much more on social media than other media sources. In times when political participation becomes increasingly individualized, people use social media to keep track of politics at their own pace. And why shouldn’t we use social media? Blogging can be an important medium in times when newspaper subscriptions keep declining, and we rely much more on information which is fast and easy to consume via social media. Social media has many advantages, it is cheap, fast and can reach a large and diverse audience. Furthermore, social media is a way of empowering people by giving them the opportunity to participate in politics from a distance. Politicians and political parties shouldn’t stay behind. Only recently, Dutch political parties (such as D66) announced their difficulties in spreading leaflets in certain neighbourhoods because of labels on doors which refuse leaflets. For problems like these, social media could be the solution.
In the future, social media could be the main or even be the only medium through which politics is arranged. It seems likely that politics will revolve more and more around the future candidates, which will become trade marks, while the organizations involved in the political campaigns become less important. This can have its benefits (more involvement for voters and followers, less campaign costs) but it can also be risky. Risky because social media can also be used as a tool to manipulate voters, for example by creating fake accounts on Twitter or Facebook. And how much does our online voice really count in politics? For better or for worse, social media will undoubtedly change the way we perceive candidates and impact our voting behaviour. Whether Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement will be able to have a fundamental impact on Italian policymaking after the recent electoral success remains unclear. His campaign however, has shown once more the incredible potential of social media on politics.
Picture credit: Ransie