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Business - Written by on Wednesday, May 7, 2008 14:36 - 5 Comments

Politicians on Facebook Just Make People More Cynical


Facebook and other social networks can and should be a valuable tool for our political leaders to engage with their constituents, allowing them access to timely information, and giving them the ability to ask questions and voice concerns from the comfort of their home. In particular, it could be a key factor in reversing the Net Generation’s cynicism towards government. Instead, the presence of politicians on Facebook is only contributing to this cynicism by reaffirming the conception of politicians as product pushers.

On Facebook, instead of adding politicians to your profile as a Friend, you add yourself to their profile as a Supporter. This makes sense if Facebook is to be a tool for mobilizing a volunteer base. And indeed, it is and should be valuable as that. But by using it for only that, politicians have served to alienate others. 

During election campaigns, most voters want to be well-informed about all the candidates. I believe that this is particularly true for Net Geners, who Don has identified as exhibiting an exceptional amount of scrutiny in their decisions. Yet the ability to receive regular updates from a politician and to communicate with them by posting on their Wall, requires that you become a Supporter, an identification that is very public: it would show up on your mini-feed, your friends’ news feeds, your profile, and the politician’s profile. Even those who support a candidate, let alone those who merely want to be informed, may not want to make that fact known to everyone and their mothers.

Also, the majority of us that are not part of the volunteer base do not want our contact with politicians to be constant appeals for our time and money. Yet this is what we get when politicians use Facebook as a way of mobilizing supporters instead of engaging with the community. In turn, the community gets the impression that these politicians are far more concerned with wining elections than doing their jobs. 

Once a politician is elected to office, we are stuck with them (for a few years at least). At that point all constituents should be engaged. In fact, those that campaigned vigorously against them may often be of the most value as collaborators in the political arena of a constituency. But a Facebook presence concerned primarily with attracting supporters and getting ready for reelection alienates these people and contributes to division and cynicism.

Politicians already have lines of communication with their supporters. What they need is lines of communication with the rest of us. They should see this as their primary motivation for using Facebook, and act accordingly. 


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Ian Bateman
May 7, 2008 22:24

You’re right, it can contribute to division and cynicism. There are far better ways to communicate with the rest of us, rather than using a device like Facebook as an ego boost.

Walt Dick
May 8, 2008 2:35

Well I think people really interested in a politicians platform shouldn’t be getting it (solely at least) from the Facebook profile. Also you made a fairly rash assumption that politicians are actually more than “product pushers”. Perhaps they are finally accepting the reality of their position in society, attempting to give the illusion of satisfying maximum utility of the voting populous.

Chris Horkins
May 11, 2008 11:05

I think you’ve pointed out a valid problem with the way politicians are using facebook today. I did like it better when they existed on facebook just as the rest of us, and you added them as “friends” rather than signing up as a “supporter”. The new system created a hierarchy of presences on facebook between politicians and the general public that contributes not only to the cynicism and division that Ian Bateman is wise to point out, but also assumptions of elitism.

In this kind of environment, facebook politicians just sit atop their tower doling out “updates” (again, by having a separate function from regular messaging, a hierarchy is created) to their supporters who can either indicate 100% support, or nothing. There is no room for bipartisanship on facebook. I’ve seen a few young Tories take heat from friends for having Liberal members on their facebook friends and vice versa. As a New Democrat, even I didn’t escape some gibing over adding Belinda Stronach.

Either way, good stuff Will. I’m glad they let you go on facebook at work. Now go grab a Snapple and play some Wii Tennis for me.

Jill Knouse
May 12, 2008 15:11

I agree with the comment above that it is better for the politician to be your friend, and not have to be a supporter. This has a lot to do with recent events. I had become a supporter of Obama on Facebook because at the time I felt he was the best candidate. So, there on my profile was a big stamp of my approval for him. When the events with his Pastor came out, I was scrutinized by my conservative friends for supporting him.

I have since deleted this from my profile because as a young voter still exploring political ideas, it became hard for me to say that I support one candidate 100% at this time. So, I agree with the idea that it is almost impossible to show bipartisanship on Facebook.

I also feel these support pages are not really accurate judges of candidate support. A current student at UT in Austin, I believe that a great deal of the supporters are just college kids who have jumped on the bandwagon influenced by other students.

Great blog. I enjoyed it.

Jun 19, 2009 16:33

As a memember of the ‘Net Generation’ I agree that to some extent the presence of politicians on Facebook is somewhat unsettling. Having serious issues like voting in regards to city planning discussed in the context of what is for the most part, frivilous social media seems strange. This has been a topic of discussion in my community lately. This past week a city councilman disclosed on his Facebook page, how he will be voting in regards to a controversial city planning issue. Volume One magazine discussed the issue in their community blog check it out here : http://volumeone.org/blogs/The_Daily_Shakedown/post/793/The_Jail_and_Facebook.html

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