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Union Stays The Same, But Social Media Fuels Change

Scotland Says No To Independence, Yes To Social Networking

The widespread use of social media over the course of the Scottish referendum signals how the course of political campaigns will never be the same again. The referendum has done more to re-engage a generation in politics than any politicians’ sleazy smiles and stunts. With a voting turnout of 86% the union holds for now, but the shape of the political landscape and the means for changing it has undergone a thorough makeover thanks to the important role that social media played in the campaigning.

The fact that residents over the age of 16 were eligible to take part meant that social media channels were a particularly effective way of engaging the younger voters. Younger members of those voting were informed and switched on as to both sides of the debate, thanks to an increase in accessibility and clarity of information being distributed around social networks. This marks a positive change in the way in which politicians will present their campaigns, as, although there will always dogmatic political ranters, social media has brought about an era of increased transparency and democratic debate that is helping to re-engage and empower citizens with an opinion.

The 2008 US election showed how politicians could use social media as a campaigning tool, but it wasn’t until the Scottish referendum this summer that Britain really got caught up. From the beginning of August to September, more than 10 million interactions were made about the debate on Facebook, and saw 7 million tweets mentioning the vote since the first televised debate.

Both sides managed to successfully tap into Twitter, with the Yes campaign posting a seemingly incessant stream of 1,657 photos and videos (compared to the Better Together’s 912). Social media strategy favoured deploying clever and emotive images at key moments during the campaign, for example by monopolising on the live TV debates.

As is becoming apparent these days, political and incendiary conflicts are being fought on social media as well as on the ground. The hearts and minds of people can be reached instantaneously via social networks and, although he woke up this morning defeated, Alex Salmond’s Yes campaign made fantastic and innovative use of social media; he didn’t win the election, but he won on social media.

The Yes campaign’s official Twitter account has over 100,000 followers compared to a mere 42,000 for the Better Together account. Alex Salmond personally boasts 95,000 Twitter followers whilst Alistair Darling has just 21,000. Tennis player Andy Murray produced the most popular tweet on polling day with his revelation, after years of averting the issue, that he was supporting the Yes campaign which gathered up 19,000 retweets.

However, although the Yes voice was louder and more widely heard across social media and TV it was not successful in reality; in many ways it was easier for Salmond and his supporters to be vocal about the issue as a vote ‘yes’ for independence resonates more innately than a vote against the idea of independence. Whilst Salmond saw success on social media, Unionists were always going to keep quiet and remained far more reticent about putting their opinions forward throughout the campaign, both on the streets and on social media.

The debate is being commended for its level-headed and respectful nature, and the way in which it has played out in the most democratic of fashions. However there is always a darker side less spoken of, and for many journalists reporting the referendum the uglier side of social media reared its head – namely, aggressive and hateful tweeting directed at individual journalists. Sky reporters received abusive messages and one BBC journalist had to delete 400 tweets from his timeline.

On the whole however, this campaign will be remembered for its positivity. Although the Union remains, Scottish independence came very close (45%-55%) and would have been one of the first truly peaceful and democratic independence movements. More importantly though, thanks to social media we can look forward to more engaged, and engaging, election campaigns in the future.


Recent graduate and now interning as content editor, when she's not writing articles Katie can quite likely be found festival-ing, holiday-ing or reading a book (dedicated English student that she is). Follow her @KatieAtSMF.

Contact us on Twitter, on Facebook, or leave your comments below. To find out about social media training or management why not take a look at our website for more info http://socialmediacambridge.co.uk/.
Union Stays The Same, But Social Media Fuels Change Reviewed by Katie Rowley on Sunday, September 21, 2014 Rating: 5
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