As the most recent election wrapped up in Australia, the different strategies Australian politicians could take in order to connect with their voters were highlighted. Rather than the normal campaign route, many politicians embraced other means in order to get their message to the public – social media.

Social media plays a huge role in the everyday lives of people around the world. We use it to connect, share ideas, share parts of our life. But with the increased prevalence of social media in our lives, the question has to be raised about the role social media plays in forming our political views.

Is social media a double-edged sword for politicians?

Green’s candidate Jay Dessi (left), and Liberal candidate Jessica Whelan (right).

While social media can allow for a message to reach the right people, it is also unmanned, allowing politicians to post anything or spread infamous “fake news”.

As social media is permanent, there’s a high chance that once you’ve posted your thoughts or feelings, they’ll come back to haunt you. A recent example saw a string of Australian politicians forced to withdraw from the past election due to previous racist and/or sexist remarks, which were immortalised on Facebook. Greens candidate Jay Dessi, posted jokes about Asian people and having sex with a ghost on his Facebook; Liberal candidate Jessica Whelan, wrote anti-Muslim comments on Facebook in 2017. Both stood down from election.

An unmonitored social media profile, even after becoming a member of parliament, is still a huge disadvantage for many politicians such as Dessi or Whelan.

Even though comments are made in the past, they can still reflect on our character in the current day.

Another major disadvantage of politicians using social media is the spread of false information, or what is more popularly known as “fake news”. The term “fake news” essentially means news that is deliberately misinformed to spread rumours. Fake news is becoming a massive problem for many Australians, as according to the Digital News Report 2018 three-quarters of Australian news consumers say they have experienced one or more types of fake news, and they are worried about it.”

Social media is changing the way Australians think politically, for better and worse.

Recently, a social media website known as WeChat, has been spreading fake information on labor candidates, leading to a wide range of scare tactics based of misinformed data and damaging lies, to circulate throughout the world.

Fake news is dangerous for any politician because even though it’s clearly incorrect, the harmful impact on their image can be detrimental to their campaign. Worse, the false information often remains uncorrected, and this uncontrolled spread is becoming a huge disadvantage for many people looking to further themselves in the political field.

Despite obvious flaws, social media is not without its advantages.

The major advantage of social media for politicians is how easy it is for them and their staff to connect with voters. There is no doubt social media has changed the way we communicate. It allows for direct communication with anyone, anywhere, at any time, and this has allowed politicians to connect with their voters directly, relieving some of the added pressure they may feel through typical outlets.

Glenn Kefford of Macquarie University stated that “Voters are active on social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, so that’s where the parties need to be.”  Through this lens, politicians can communicate with their followers without the media filter, allowing them to directly advertise their thoughts and opinions. For example, Malcolm Turnbull announced the change to 457 visas in Australia, over Facebook to avoid the media filter potentially altering the announcement.

Now with the recent election done and dusted, we’ve been able to see first hand how social media can be a double edged sword for Australian politicians. As political rivalries continue and new campaigns emerge, the looming question of social media’s importance and effect on politicians remains. Could it lead to their success or their potential downfall?