Tweets and the Election: Putting the Personality in Politics?

As it does every time it comes around, the upcoming general election is currently generating a huge buzz, dominating media in the UK. While this is nothing unusual, the debate seems to be reaching further than ever this year, with new details of campaigns, promises and political faux pas emerging daily.

The rise in accessible technology can, largely, be attributed as one of the main reasons for the increase in the sheer volume of election-related information that we find ourselves presented with.

The increased level of social connectivity that a more technologically active society possesses, means that we can be updated with developments of political runnings pretty much as and when they happen. And, with the majority of people in the UK now using a smart phone or tablet to connect to the internet, updates and information are, quite literally, at our fingertips.

But, what does this mean for the election, and the way people may think about how they plan to vote?

Reports suggest that this year, the 2015 UK general election will be the first to be significantly determined by social media websites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Politicians now live in an age where their social media strategy can determine their success – and the number of ‘likes’, ‘retweets’ or ‘shares’ that their posts get can act as a measurable comparison with their competitors.

Battling parties have never been forced into a more public form of competition, with members of the public able to judge their actions so openly, and easily. With a few tweets, or the creation of a hashtag, the entire online community can see what’s happening, and be privy to others’ political views.

Take last week, for example, when Labour fans coined the hashtag ‘Milifandom’, with many supporters sharing photos of party leader Ed Miliband. In response, Conservative tweeters adopted the hashtag ‘Cameronette’, in a desperate attempt to dominate the platform’s trending topics.

With this form of instantaneous discussion, politicians (and their marketing teams) have to be constantly aware of their online behaviour – whether that’s engaging in the right forms of social media, or ensuring that when they are posting, they’re not going to inadvertently cause offence (like so many MPs and political figures, recently, who’ve had to publicly apologise for their controversial tweets, shares and comments.

The ultimate result of this form of content and information sharing is that the public are presented with a ‘personality’, rather than just a manifesto. People are obsessed with gaining a window into the everyday lives of political leaders, following their Instagram for photos, and their twitter to see what kind of views they have on trending issues. People want to know the person that they’re voting for, and not just what their party stands for. It’s worth mentioning that this fixation of seeing public figures and celebrities doing ‘normal’ things isn’t a phenomena that’s unique to the UK, but rather something that is happening globally (click here to see a video of the Chinese president buying a bun that went viral).

Politicians are having to fast familiarise themselves with social media, it seems, in order to keep themselves in the public favour and endear themselves to the nation. It’s a dangerous landscape for them to navigate – and there is a fine line to cross between ‘showcasing a personality’ and ‘an obvious political gimmick’ – particularly as, with one wrong move, they could find themselves alienating a generation of voters who are becoming ever more technologically literate and dependent.