How Social Media Are Changing Politics From the Ground UpCampaigns are much and easier to organize online so lawmakers may be hearing from people they didn’t used to
The internet has been a boon for citizen lobbyists. Everyone from societies for animal protection through environment activists and legal pot activists is offering tips, primers, and courses to those who want to influence government without quitting their day job and moving to the capital. .
European law prof Alberto Alemanno spotted the trend and wrote a book about it, Lobbying for Change: Find Your Voice to Create a Better Society (2017):
Participation now happens with little cost or effort. And it means that a greater number of citizens – who have traditionally not participated – are becoming more politically active, or at least more open to persuasion by those that are. People have also become politically more promiscuous. Today’s digitally-empowered citizens express allegiances to multiple issues, without necessarily adhering to a political organisation. They may support causes that don’t traditionally fit, often without a political motivation.Alberto Alemanno, “The world needs a new generation of citizen lobbyists” at The Conversation (September 26, 2017)
The result has been a proliferation of direct democracy and political advocacy groups. The Dutch farmers the Canadian truckers have engaged in large, eye-opening, generally peaceful demonstrations against government policies that would hardly have been possible apart from cell phone technology available everywhere they went.
And naturally, it has become commercialized. Companies like Urban Legend work with advocacy groups to streamline campaigns and empower “top creators to promote issues that matter and drive their audiences to action.” As explained at Wired:
A Philadelphia-area attorney who proffers financial advice urged her 1,700 Twitter followers to sign up for a credit union. A 23-year-old climate activist in Texas rallied her 49,000 fans on TikTok and Instagram to join a mailing list promoting Democrats in statewide offices. A physical therapist for the elderly in Florida prodded her 3,900 Instagram followers to sign a petition demanding that Congress pass paid medical leave, sharing the story of her grandmother’s battle with dementia. Each of these posts was funded by a well-heeled advocacy organization: the Credit Union National Association, the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State, and UsAgainstAlzheimer’s Action.Benjamin Wofford, “Meet the Lobbyist Next Door” at Wired (July 14, 2022)
Wofford has decidedly mixed feelings about off-the-shelf social media campaigns but, as more people than ever communicate through social media, they will likely increase in impact:
Tellingly, both Urban Legend’s boosters and its detractors agree on the presence of a black hole at the center of the internet that’s pulled society into alignment with its goals. “To understand what Urban Legend is doing, you have to look at where we are as a society,” says Makembe. “There’s a lack of trust”—in institutions, in media, in each other—a worsening problem that he says Urban Legend is solving. Others are less sanguine. “You’re getting paid to manipulate your followers,” Farid says flatly. “Somebody with 3,000 followers is now, essentially, a lobbyist.”Benjamin Wofford, “Meet the Lobbyist Next Door” at Wired (July 14, 2022)
The remarkable fact isn’t that someone with 3,000 followers manipulates (or influences?) them but that social media — at least potentially — enables a more direct democracy.
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