Does Twitter humanize a politician’s campaign?

Twitter has become one of the leading social media platforms and has become a key way for politicians to communicate with journalists and the public. President Obama joined Twitter fairly late (2015) compared to other key political figures, David Cameron joined in 2012, Hillary joined in 2012 and unsurprisingly Trump has the oldest Twitter account out of these as he joined in 2009 which is due to his long term fame as a celebrity with his business ventures as well as his show The Apprentice. 

This presidential campaign has seen a rise in the importance of social media for campaigns, in particular allowing the campaign to communicate with supporters, both in a ‘good’ way and a ‘negative’ way. Trump has always been controversial and his Twitter communication is no exception. In a way it can be argued this style of communication humanizes the political campaign as we all laugh at things about people we dislike. Sharing jokes (see opposite) with friends is a popular use of social media, and this is exactly what Trump did except he shared the joke with the public and all his supporters which makes him feel slightly more grounded (even though his ego is as close to the ground as the moon). However, the tweet can also be viewed as a negative for the campaign as this came from not just a politician but someone who could be President. Therefore while the tweet is grounded and humanizing, it can also be judged as highly unprofessional. This behaviour has caused concerns as what Trump might tweet or retweet jokes about foreign countries which as a person is acceptable but not when that person is the representative of the United States. In this context jokes can cause conflicts, damage trade for the US or worse.

Another way that the Twitter use can humanize a politician’s campaign is how they can respond to both scandals about themselves and about their opponent in real time as well as being able to have debates on Twitter that we might not otherwise see. Opposite is one example of a feud Clinton and Trump had on Twitter which showed how politicians (especially in this campaign) can appear to act like children in a playground arguing about whose dad is bigger or who should get to play with a toy first. In this instance it showed how not having the best responses can lead to you getting humiliated by your rival as Hillary suffered at the hands of Trump. 

A further issue that can arise from politician’s Twitter pages are that tweets are often seen as scripted by a PR team which is unsurprising, we see it with most celebrities when they post tweets which lack a human dimension and appear as purely promotional or public relations. This is further demonstrated by Hilary’s opening tweet which refers to her in the third person, not usually the way someone would talk about themselves on twitter. This can make a politician’s Twitter feel staged or robotic which is not what social media is supposed to be about, it should be about individuality. This can be seen by Hilary’s poor comeback that we can see in the figure and Trump points out how it is obvious Hillary is not the one posting most of the tweets on her page, making her appear even less like one of the people whose votes she is seeking

The more human a politician is seen the better as you feel like they will say what they mean and not just what their PR team tell them to say. When a politician makes a speech, personal experience adds another dimension to it making it more human and relatable. Kruikemeier’s research shows that a more personalized style can be a vote winner, whereas self-promoting in the third person can turn voters away.

It seems that social media has become another area for spin doctors and PR teams to communication on behalf of politicians. Professional communication consultants thus become a middleman for the politician, interacting between them and their supporters and the public. It almost feels like another barrier between citizen and politician, as politicians embrace new forms of media they run the risk of becoming less human and more like puppets controlled by their PR teams.

The other side of the question asked is whether a politician’s use of social media could be seen as too human, with the politician commenting on every small issue and trying to become keyboard warriors which is not what we expect from our leaders. Our perception of leaders is that they need to be human but not too ‘ordinary’ as they should be intelligent communicators. Too much emphasis on using social media could be seen as immature when they should be focusing their time studying the key issues and making informed decisions instead of reposting petitions on social media or making jokes about those who they disagree with. Thus ‘correct’ use of such platforms is tricky, and politicians have to be careful when deciding when or when not to tweet.