Social Media, the modern-day propaganda tool for the Far-right

Social Media, the modern-day propaganda tool for the Far-right

Social media has always been hailed as a tool for those with little to no voice or representation within society and it can definitely aid pro-democracy movements on occasion, unfortunately overall it gives the far-right parties and authoritarians an advantage. These platforms, once seen as an ally to democracy, have progressively become its enemy.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro

It is easier for misinformation to be spread on social media than it is to correct it, it is also easier to ignite social divisions than it is to repair them. The very nature of how we engage in social media helps the far-right, authoritarian factions to wear away at the foundations of our democratic systems and even give themselves a straightforward route to gaining authority. This can be seen recently in the 2018 Presidential elections in Brazil where far right candidate Jair Bolsonaro was part of a well-funded campaign that spread false information about his political opponents, this proved extremely effective as it was difficult for his opponents or the press to discredit or disprove these false allegations. This spreading of false information could be seen throughout the numerous WhatsApp messages that were sent throughout the election campaign, The Guardian conducted a survey of viral WhatsApp messages spread throughout 296 group chats and found that “approximately 42% of right-wing items contained information found to be false by factcheckers. Less than 3% of the left-wing messages analysed in the study contained externally verified falsehoods.” This again shows how instrumental the spreading of political misinformation is tactically for far-right political candidates.

Democratic Recession was a term created by political scientist Larry Diamond and can be described as “the decline of liberal democracy or the strength of democratic institutions in countries that formerly had a higher level of freedom and democracy.” This is a result of right-wing candidates who manipulate information on social media to get elected and then force their views on others. None have done this in a more prolific manner than current US President Donald Trump. Trump, has made over 20,000 false claims since he was elected and again the same problem arises. Despite the mainstream media debunking his claims right-wing outlets spread these lies or manufactured supporting evidence on social media, where it is seen as fact in the eyes of the president’s core supporters. Researchers from Princeton University and New York University found that conservatives were more than four times as likely to share fake news on Facebook as liberals. As a result of misinformation being spread and acknowledged as fact by a portion of the population Trump was able to convince certain voters that Hillary Clinton was involved in the alleged “pizzagate” incident, which helped him to win his Presidential bid over a far more experienced opponent. Furthermore, since his recent loss in the Presidential election he has continued this trend by making baseless claims of voter fraud. However at the time of writing 35 of his 36 legal cases claiming voter fraud have been dismissed in court.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez playing Among Us on Twitch

Despite the far-right utilising social media far more efficiently than the left wing, there is still hope. As we have seen social media can be used as a powerful tool for the left-wing and pro-democracy groups. A recent example is the use of streaming platform Twitch by progressive politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who streamed herself playing the popular game Among Us with several high-profile Twitch streamers, with at one point over 430,000 people watching her stream. She streamed with these social media stars in order to encourage voter turnout in the upcoming Presidential election as she knows young people often feel disenfranchised by politics and this was a good way to connect with many first time voters. So far, this tactic seems to have worked as in almost every state the turnout for the youth vote has increased dramatically. Another great example of a liberal politician effectively using social media is Bernie Sanders, Sanders already has a large following on social media and has held collaborations with celebrities like Cardi B. These are important as many Millennials and those in Gen Z preferred Sanders as a Presidential candidate over Biden so naturally one of the questions asked by Cardi B was why the youth should still vote for Biden and the Democrats. Furthermore, platforms like TikTok have been of great importance since the beginning of civil unrest and protests within the US to help showcase support for several causes such as Black Lives Matter Rallies. More recently TikTok has again proven to be an extremely effective social media tool for younger generations to showcase their support for causes as seen in the recent protests in Poland over the Government’s reversal on abortion rights. There have been plenty of videos showing the protests in Warsaw and other cities throughout the country.

Former Presidential candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders with Pop Star Cardi B

Overall, we can see that social media has an ever-growing role to play within politics and this will only increase due to the continued distrust in traditional media. While currently far right politicians are more able to use their social media platforms to spread misinformation to be divisive and polarising which in turn helps them to get elected, this is mainly due to what I would call “traditional social media” such as Facebook which is populated with older generations who are typically more conservative politically. However, as time goes on I believe this will change as younger generations are better informed than their predecessors and with the help of more modern social media such as TikTok are able to communicate from a more liberal perspective.

Joel Currie is a final year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. He can be found at LinkedIn and Twitter

Political Pensioners, Power and Social Media

Political Pensioners, Power and Social Media

Social media is often considered to be the domain of the young.  Every student has shared memes mocking inept parents struggling with technology, sharing embarrassing posts on Facebook and doing the unthinkable on TikTok, but what happens when the fight for the most powerful political post on earth is being contested and it’s votes, not laughs, that are being fought for in the social media arena – and both of  the  contenders are pensioners?

See the source image

 Firstly, looking at last year’s presidential candidates, we can clearly see they are older than the average candidate. When Donald Trump became president 4 years ago, he also became the oldest president to assume the position for a first term, at 70 years old. Obviously, this year, Joe Biden, as the president elect, beat this, at a shocking 77 years old. The minimum age to take on the role of President of the United States is 35. This begs the question, should there be a maximum age? It seems very hard to imagine that someone of this age bracket, can accurately navigate all forms of social media and advertising, as it is generally believed that the majority of people this age struggle with modern technology and media.

I feel with other presidential candidates, it is very clear that they have been somewhat out of touch with social media, with very political, formal posts across various platforms. It is evident that a team of people in the background are managing their accounts, quite probably with little personal input from the candidates themselves. For example, looking at Barack Obama’s time in office, when he personally wrote a tweet, he signed it off “ -BO ”, but the majority of tweets made from his account were written by his staff. In 2009, a year after assuming the presidency, he actually admitted in an interview that “I have never used Twitter, my thumbs are too clumsy to type things on a phone.” He did not start to personally tweet until 2011 in the run up to his re-election campaign.

See the source image

Obama is seen as a pioneer in politics in terms of social media, and it is often said that his use of social media is what won him 2 elections, despite his limited knowledge on the area. This is because he knew he wanted to target a new audience. As all presidents before him did, he didn’t put the majority of his resources into trying to change previously republican voters, to democrats. He instead focused on a whole new window of opportunity. Young people. The people who were over 18 and have the right to vote, but often don’t as they are uninterested or simply feel uneducated on the subject. Obama changed this. 48.4% of 18-29 year olds voted in 2008, which at the time marked the highest percentage since 1984. So even though he openly admits his naivety regarding social media, he realised its potential. He also clearly had a very skilled marketing team behind him who were able to put his ideas into action. He is now the most followed person on Twitter, beating Justin Bieber by 13 million.

Donald Trump really couldn’t be more of a contrast in his use of media. As a candidate in 2016, he didn’t need to spend a whole lot of money trying to win the presidential election because the media (particularly television) treated his campaign initially as a novelty, then as a spectacle – as entertainment instead of politics. So Trump got lots of free airtime on cable news and major networks. The equivalent of $5 billion in free media by the end of the presidential election. Such pervasive coverage, even if much of it was negative, helped to propel Trump to the White House.

Trump has also been front and centre with his use of Twitter for some time, some would say uncontrollably.  In a documentary I watched, “President trump: Tweets From The Whitehouse” on channel 4, it said that White House staff reached a compromise with him following a series of his more controversial tweets that they would be able to vet what he was sending out. However, we can still see that his tweets are often sent around 2 or 3am. This shows the President clearly reflecting on the news of the day and responding in the visceral manner for which he is known and in what must surely be an uncensored state. The non-PC nature of his tweets is remarkable, for example the tweet below, where he insinuates that the Supreme Leader of North Korea is “short and fat”. I feel that Trump’s victory in his first presidential election is a real advocate for “any publicity is good publicity”, it seems that as long as people are talking about him, he doesn’t care what they’re saying. And despite it being so shocking, some people obviously loved this aspect of him. It showed he was a real person, with real feelings and emotions, and he wasn’t afraid to say what he thought. Ironically for a politician, he didn’t feel the need to be ‘politically correct’. Marketing advisors will often deter their clients from ever giving controversial opinions in fear of the repercussions, but Trump ….. well he just sacked the advisors who tried to advise.

See the source image

In contrast Biden in many ways has behaved like the inept parents in his use of social media. It is widely believed that he does not manage his own social media, including his Twitter feed, in any direct way and has instead asked a younger team to manage it for him. This has resulted in a completely different style of communication from Trump – far fewer personal reflections and remarks, much more considered responses with more retweets, more politically correct language in fact …. more like Obama. So while the question was what happens when pensioners use social media to fight political battles well, the answer is we don’t actually know. We only know what happens when one pensioner uses social media and the other hands his phone over to a whole team of people the same age as his grandchildren. And what we know is that on this occasion, the phone in the hands of a pensioner did all the things we would expect – he liked things he ought not to have, said what he thought when he should have been quiet and did a whole range of swiping and tapping that anyone of us under the age of 25 knows we FORBID when we show our parents something on our phones. We hold on to the phone at all times, at a distance – no matter the pleas about failing eyesight, because we know they cannot be trusted not to do the wrong thing. And this election has shown us on this occasion, the pensioner who handed the phone over to the kids who know what they’re talking about was right, as it resulted in him becoming the President of the United States, while the other pensioner is left writing childish tweets saying, it’s a fix!! It’s not fair all the votes were counted!!!! I want a do-over!!!

Charlotte Cockcroft is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Pubic Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on: LinkedIn and Twitter.

How many influencers have used the Covid 19 pandemic as a way to manipulate the media?

How many influencers have used the Covid 19 pandemic as a way to manipulate the media?

During this pandemic many thoughts wander through the mind and is hard to see what is going on around us with the mainstream media blasting content down our throats at every angle. After some thought went into to it, I wondered how many massive media representatives have been using this pandemic and its difficulties to their advantage.

This became apparent after watching some fellow students on a panel talking about Stephen Nolan from the Nolan’s show recent visit to the holy lands to showcase and portray how bad things were getting in terms of Covid 19 restrictions and guideline violations.

The well-known presenter made an effort to walk through the streets during peak times to exaggerate the gatherings and to make the students living there look bad. This had a massive knock on affect after this showcase as the media started blaming any spike in the covid 19 virus as a result of the students living in the holy lands.

This presenter seen an opportunity to approach drunken students who in their defence were only trying to make the best of these current times and enjoy student life. But the presenter knew when he challenged the drunk students that they would react accordingly and when provoked they did so which was exactly what the producers wanted to support their media efforts.

This brought a dark cloud over all students heads in my eyes as being a student myself in the holy lands I couldn’t help feel that anywhere I went people would assume I am part of the rise in Covid spike and therefore I and others who live in these areas are to blame.

Many other media influencers such as local members of parliament took to the high horse when the Covid pandemic hit as they used this as any way to gain media spotlight. In my opinion you don’t see these representatives do much unless it’s in the spotlight of the media to gain votes come election time. So, when the pandemic struck, they kicked into action doing anything at all to gain media spotlight to showcase their efforts in assisting the global pandemic.

Since it’s a global pandemic I will also have to talk about the biggest media representative in America of course! Donald trump tested positive for covid despite all the presidential efforts and strict guidelines. His son Eric trump spoke to CNN news when his father was not well. He stated that one day his father was that sick he thought he would lose him. Yet days later after this new vaccine “the cure” he was a different man and that no one could have done what his father has done for the covid vaccine front and how far they have come in terms of a cure. This in my opnion is a massive political stunt to gain the American vote again and I would dare say the president didn’t even have covid.

I’m not saying that I’m against all of these media representatives and influencers as I will still vote for whoever during election time and I will continue to watch the Stephen Nolan show but I’m highlighting the fact that all of these people only used the media spotlight to showcase something in order to gain support or to create a media campaign to create content. I believe this is not the type of thing that these people should be doing during this time rather than use their access to such a great media following to promote positivity and forward-thinking suggestions to making life easier during these scary times.

Dion Stewart is a third year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. He can be found at LinkedIn.

FAKE NEWS OR REAL NEWS? It’s over Mr. Trump.

FAKE NEWS OR REAL NEWS? It’s over Mr. Trump.

It’s been nearly 3 weeks since it was announced that Joe Biden was announced the 46th President of the United States to which he will be inaugurated on January 20th 2021. 3 weeks and roughly around 700 tweets later, current President Trump has STILL NOT fully accepted defeat.

Sleepy Donald – Wake up Mr. Trump.

Trump and Twitter are like Toast and Butter – the 2 go hand in hand like no other combination. On the run up to the presidential election Twitter had to implement hidden warnings that say the claims are disputed and may be misleading on the President’s Twitter account. Facebook also added some fact-check boxes to some of the messages on Trumps profile, clarifying that the final results might take longer than normal. It’s no doubt that some Trump supporters are ridiculously credulous and accept what he has to say without a lot of supporting facts, so it makes sense to have a disclaimer on every one of the posts.

Where did Trump go wrong?

Trump’s handling and preparation of a once-in-a-generation pandemic was the final straw for the people of America. Trumps constant lies, political spin and arrogance to neglect the virus has caused America to have the highest number of deaths worldwide which is currently sitting at 254k according to Statista – A figure to be absolutely ashamed of and which contributes to nearly 20% of the deaths worldwide. I’m no President but I do understand the need to preserve the lives of the people who look to you as a leader and not to just ‘brush it off’ like Mr. Trump did.

Now, I understand at the start of this year information regarding COVID-19 was more limited, but we still knew the detrimental effects surrounding it and so did the President – but this didn’t stop him saying, “It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle—it will disappear” on Friday, February 7th.

Sorry Donald, 290 days, 11.4 million cases and 254k deaths later and it STILL hasn’t ‘disappeared’ like you said it would. Below is a list of similar lies and statements which I believe contributed to the loss of the election.

  • The pandemic is “fading away. It’s going to fade away.” Wednesday, June 17th
  • The pandemic is “getting under control.” Thursday, July 2nd
  • “We now have the lowest Fatality (Mortality) Rate in the World.” Monday, July 6th
  • “What happens is, you get better” after being sick with COVID-19. “That’s what happens: You get better.” Multiple times.

Trump Tax

If I gave you 50 guesses to guess how much Donald Trump paid in tax in 2017, odds are you’re never going to guess it. It was a measly $750, according to the New York Times. This scandal led to further consequences for Trump such as the Trump Tax Calculator which allowed users to enter how much taxes they paid in 2017 and it will give them the difference in tax in which they paid than the President of the United States. This website was sheer Propaganda for the Biden Campaign – at the bottom there was an option to ‘Join our Campaign to elect Joe Biden and make “billionaires” like Donald Trump pay their fair share”.

Case of Trump defeating Trump?

I remember my six-form business studies teacher telling me that if Trump wins this election, the only way he will be defeated is if he defeats himself – which now seems pretty plausible. Nick Bryant put it best when he said,

“Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016 partly because he was a norm-busting political outsider who was prepared to say what had previously been unsayable.

But Donald Trump also lost the presidency in 2020 partly because he was a norm-busting political outsider who was prepared to say what had previously been unsayable.”

You either love what he has to say or hate what he has to say but if one thing is for certain, is that you will most definitely hear what he has to say.

Dragon Slayer Biden

The only thing more powerful than a dragon, is a dragon slayer. Trumps relish for power and chaos was the American norm for the past 4 years but in the end, succeeded defeat to Bidens promise of decency, unity and national healing. Biden’s win was once widely anticipated and stubbornly doubted – a lot like Trumps campaign in 2016.

Luke Johnston is a final year BSc in Public Relations & Communication Management student at Ulster University. He can be found on LinkedIn.

“A victory for ‘We The People'” Joe Biden President Elect – a bright new age for the USA.

“A victory for ‘We The People'” Joe Biden President Elect – a bright new age for the USA.
@henrykornaros TikTok – New York City following the announcement of the 46th President of the USA

Flash back to America on Wednesday the 9th of November 2016, after one of the most divisive presidential races in US history, Donald Trump claimed his place as America’s 45th President. While hard core republicans across the country began to celebrate the notion of the return of this ‘Great America’ so irrefutably promised by Trump, many citizens were left in devastation and despair at the prospect of a leader who was in all evidence, on an ego-inflated power-trip fuelled by hubris and empty promises.

However on the 7th of November 2020 after four nail biting days of contention over the definitive winner of the 2020 Presidential election, Joe Biden was announced as the 46th President Elect. Across social media and news channels stories and footage flooded in of celebrations taking place. Crowds of people filled the streets (vast majority of them clad in their masks, as the ‘side’ generally more conscientious of the ongoing pandemic) rejoicing in the hope of a leader who doesn’t fuel a campaign with fear mongering and marginalisation but with the pledge to action and acceptance.

Despite the question mark which some still are saying remain over the winner of the election (cue ‘This claim about election fraud is disputed’ tweet from Donald Trump), the fact remains you can’t argue with the numbers. Not only did Joe Biden win the electoral college vote but also broke the record for most popular votes amassed in a single presidential race. Regardless of the delay in result, it’s an over-whelming victory for Biden, and a hard pill to swallow for Trump.

As Joe Biden took to the stage at the Chase Centre in Wilmington, Delaware running on with the enthusiasm and conviction of a man who truly loves his country and those who reside in it, he opened his speech humbly with “Hello, my fellow Americans.” From this outset a tone has been set; of a president who sees himself as among the citizens rather than above. Within Biden’s speech there are clear elements of what sets him apart from his opponent. He graciously thanks Kamala Harris, his vice president, who so proudly introduced him to the crowd, and highlights her ground breaking participation in his campaign as, “the first woman, first Black woman, first woman of South Asian descent, and first daughter of immigrants ever elected to national office in this country.” His speech continues with the constant reiteration of the inclusive America that lies in the future.

Following months of Black Lives Matter protests, brought to a boiling point by America’s inherent police brutality and a long history of racism in all its ugliest forms, Biden, who served as vice-president and loyal friend to America’s first ever black president, takes a moment to pay particular thanks to this group, “And especially for those moments when this campaign was at its lowest — the African American community stood up again for me. They always have my back, and I’ll have yours.” As he bangs his fist in conviction against the stand, there is the chorus of support which accompanies Biden’s campaign, an eruption of car horns and cheers from the crowd.

Mean while in the hours following the announcement of his victory, the celebrations taking place through-out the country exist of people from all races, ethnicities, religions, sexualities and backgrounds and live true to Biden’s wish of  “a campaign that represented America.” Fountains in New York are dancefloors and embellished by pride flags flying next to stars and stripes, young African Americans stand proudly holding flags with faith in a president who won’t cast them as looters and criminals when they stand against the systematic brutality against their people.

Biden then states his first call of order to getting the COVID-19 crisis under control, utilising a “bedrock of science” to carry this out. A stark contrast to Trump who not six months before proposed ingesting disinfectant as a possible solution.

As Biden comes to a close in his speech he talks about looking ahead. In a year such as 2020 there is no better time to look to the future and the promise it holds. Almost as if a commentary on the last four years presidency, ironically punctuated by arguably the greatest crisis of the 21st century, Joe Biden offers hope “You see, I believe in the possibility of this country. We’re always looking ahead.”

Now with the US population looking towards Biden to see his next steps as the inauguration comes into sight, the question remains to be seen whether he will come through with the delivery of “A nation healed.”

Sophie Fox is a final year student studying BSc Communication Management and Public Relations at Ulster University. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter

DRINKING ALCOHOL PROTECTS AGAINST COVID-19

DRINKING ALCOHOL PROTECTS AGAINST COVID-19

Sadly, it’s doesn’t. But the headline caught your eye didn’t it? 

You might have heard the term ‘Fake news’ being thrown around lately, or perhaps from Donald Trump, as it is one of his favourite phrases! Fake news is essentially misinformation that is spread online as real news. I suppose you could say its big news right now as there has been a significant amount of it during this pandemic, however with so much media circulating about COVID-19, how do we know what is true anymore?

According to a survey by Statista (2020), almost 64% of UK respondents came across a false story at least once a day in the space of a week during September. In my opinion, this is absolutely crazy, how is fabricated news allowed to be shared across platforms millions of us use? 

A new study by MIT in 2018 found that false news spreads more rapidly on the social platform Twitter than real news does and not because of any algorithms or technology, it’s all down to users retweeting it and sending it onto their pals. No doubt this has increased over the past two years!  

Spreading inaccurate information online is more dangerous than we think, throughout the pandemic I personally have stumbled across many fake news articles and seen plenty of users sharing it across networks like Facebook. In concerning and tough times like this, reading a headline such as “Coronavirus is a Hoax” (I WISH!!) can have a massive impact on someone’s mental health if they believe this, especially when they are being kept from seeing loved ones and being told to stay inside. 

We have seen the impact fake news has had on political campaigns in America back in 2016, where it has been used and abused to target vulnerable people and influence their political opinions, which is why I feel more needs to be done about how to combat it – If this comes as a surprise to you, I would advise watching The Great Hack on Netflix!

So, what are social media platforms doing about it?

We use Instagram, Facebook and Twitter every day, so surely these big tech companies have a part to play in stopping the spread of false news? Well, they have previously turned a blind eye to the matter however, recently many have been taking action.

Facebook has vowed that they will continue to use fact checkers to review misinformation and then remove the fake news or perhaps sometimes, conspiracy theories. For example, at the start of the year when coronavirus began to spread, Facebook focused on removing false stories surrounding cures and treatment for the virus including “Avoid spicy food to avoid infection”– which was obviously not true. They also blocked certain hashtags on their platform Instagram which were linked to the topic. 

YouTube also took it upon themselves to remove any videos that include misleading information about vaccines and that contradict local health authorities like the NHS or World Health Organisation (WHO). 

And like I mentioned before, fake news has become the centre of previous election campaigns, and recently Twitter banned accounts which had been tweeting spam in relation to Donald Trump, which is against Twitters rules. 

What can WE do?

  1. Do a quick search on Google or Twitter. By doing this you can see if it’s came from a trusted source or if anyone else has questioned it. For any stories regarding COVID-19, only listen to health organisations like the NHS or WHO.
  2. If you’re unsure if a social media post is fake news or not, don’t like, comment or share it – this can increase your chances of seeing more fake news as social media platforms like to show us more of what we interact with. The more engagement a post like this receives, the more likely it’s seen as something relevant. 
  3. If it does in fact turn out to be fake news, report it! You can do this on any social media site, the World Health Organisation has published a great guide on their website which can help you do this.
  4. And lastly, just think before you share! Sometimes it can be hard to resist a click bait headline but try get used to reading trusted sources instead of what Sandra might have shared to her 200 followers (No offence to any Sandra’s out there) …

To sum it up, I think it’s scary to see how fast false information spreads these days and, in my opinion, it’s ruining people’s opinions on real journalism as they jump to believe the false article they just read on Facebook rather than the actual facts. There is definitely more work to be done here by social media platforms to stop the spread of fake news but for now, we can only look out for the warning signs!

Shauna McKillop is a final year BSc in Communication, Advertising & Marketing student at Ulster University. She spent her placement year at The Tomorrow Lab in Belfast, where she continues to work as a junior digital marketing executive. Shauna can be found on: LinkedIn and Twitter.

Celebrities, social opinion, and the political sphere.

Celebrities, social opinion, and the political sphere.

For added support, just chuck a ‘Rock’ at it.

Years ago, before the introduction of social media, we all relied on the information provided to us by media outlets like television, tabloid, newspapers, radio and the like to help us understand the world and form our opinions. In the present day, the reliance on these regulated forms of media may still be important in the formation of public opinion, particularly with the older generations, however it appears that social media has introduced an immediate two-way conversation between celebrities and their fans that never existed until recently; a type of democratisation of a fan club in real-time.

Celebrities crossing over from their usual world of popularity into the political sphere to use their huge fan-base to help influence the outcome of an upcoming election or even to simply make a political statement, is not uncommon.

Marlon Brando in 1973, was nominated for Best Actor for his performance in The Godfather. In his stead, he sent Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather. In protest against the long-standing failure for the USA to honour the treaties it had made with Native American nations and as a proclamation against the stereotypical portrayal of Native Americans in TV and film, she refused the award on Marlon’s behalf. Before this, politics had been pretty much left out of the Oscars, and worryingly for The Academy, on the night, Sacheen’s words were met with a mixture of booing and applause.

This show of ‘political shenanigans’ prompted the Academy, who were fearing a PR disaster, to ban any future award recipients from sending proxies on their behalf. There have been many other occasions where outside politics have taken centre stage at the Oscars. Who can forget Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon in 1993, and the fine performance of Michael Moore in 2003. Yes, not exactly politics as such, but certainly showing how one human can have a strong influence on matters.

Meanwhile in politics

In 1966, an actor who starred in such films as ‘The Bad Man’ called Ronald Regan was elected Governor of California and later became the President of the United States. Moving through the years, in 2008, Oprah Winfrey and George Clooney openly and loudly endorsed Barack Obama’s presidential campaign; as of yet, neither of them have opted run for President, but who knows? During the same campaign, American musician Hank Williams Jr chose to write a song, endorsing Senator John McCain’s campaign.

Chucking A ‘Rock’ At The Election

Recently, on Sunday, Sept. 27 2020, The Rock, a man who certainly knows how to spin his own PR, decided to post a video on Instagram that was far different from anything he had posted before. In his own words, “it expressed a message near and dear to my heart”. He wanted his followers “to vote blue in the 2020 election”. So with an audience of 190 million, he officially endorsed former VP Joe Biden and his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris.  

His caption read “As a political independent and centrist for many years, I’ve voted for Democrats in the past and as well as Republican. In this critical election, I believe Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are the best to lead our country, and as my first ever (public) Presidential endorsement, I proudly endorse them for the presidential office of our United States.” At the time of the post, The Rock had 198 million followers on Instagram, and with him rumoured to earn up to $1 million per sponsored Instagram post, he has a lot sway in the world of social media.

“it expressed a message near and dear to my heart”

Prior to this post, when The Rock posted content, his millions of adoring fans would applaud him with nothing but kind words and platitudes, however this post changed everything.

A Rolling Rock Obviously Gathers No Moss

Many Trump fans took to his account to leave their comments of dislike, and to praise their man-child of a President. Did it harm his account?

Actually no. It has grown even more, to well over 200 million. So exactly how can we define that success? In votes? In followers? Just how influential was his message in shaping the political landscape? It is near impossible to measure. It’s not like there are statisticians standing outside each polling station waiting to ask every voter questions like “which celebrity influenced your vote”?

Public attitudes.

A recent study by the YouGov-Cambridge Centre concluded that only 14% of British voters think social media is good for society.

In the same study it shows clearly that many voters actually doubt the internet has been positive for political campaigning.

According to another recent study, the USA public attitudes toward political engagement on social media are equally as eye-opening. 42% get involved online with social or political issues that are important to them, while 37% feel that social media offers a place to express their political opinions.

I am not writing this with the suggestion that celebrities should be left out of all political discourse, however I do feel that in a world where celebrities with huge social media reach are role models and supposed policy experts, there is no limit to just much they can influence the shaping of public opinion; particularly with Generation Z.

What about the older citizens? Could older generations start using social media as an online activism tool?  Professor Jen Shradie suggests “Online activism was supposed to be a utopian dream. Rather than rely on big institutions, everyone’s voices were supposed to be heard,” she says. She goes on to suggest that online activism tends to attract the younger generations to engage, not to mention the better educated; and those with the technology and communication skills do tend to get their point across to win online arguments. After all, older generations obviously hold opinions, but many of these may not be getting captured online.

It’s voting time

So, could politically uneducated, yet powerfully influential PR astute celebrities like The Rock be seen as being a potentially dangerous combination in the overall process of forming social opinion within the political sphere? Perhaps, this is a conversation we should be engaging in more often.

Gary Gates is a final year BSc Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. He can be found on: LinkedIn – Gary Gates

WHEN REALITY TV STAR MEETS REALITY

WHEN REALITY TV STAR MEETS REALITY

The golden doors opened and once again the stage was set. Out into the light stepped Donald Trump, he paused to enjoy the adulation while the watching cameras went into overdrive, or maybe that was just the sound of the White House PR machine ratcheting up another notch. A quick fist pump and he was on his way, down the steps, patting the handrail with gusto, as if to say a health strong man like me needs no rail.

His armoured cavalcade was waiting at the bottom of the steps and there was just time for another fist pump and a quick thumbs up before climbing into his chariot to be whisked away on a journey of 50 whole metres to Marine One. Then it was off into the air for a triumphant return to the White House.

Touching down on the South Lawn, we got more fist pumping, thumbs up and waving before Trump, basking in the press attention, ascends the White House steps for another photo op on the balcony, this time whipping of his mask and patriotically standing beside the stars and stripes in a show of strength and defiance.

His return to the White House could have come straight from a TV drama, the returning presidential hero coming to save the nation! Trump is very aware of the power of images in the media and the message they send to the American public. I have no doubt that was why, during his hospital stay, he went on his slow joy ride around the hospital, waving to his supporters when he should have been isolating and not risking the lives of his security team in his hermetically sealed SUV.

The reality TV star, with one eye on the presidential election and scoring points with the American public, clearly, believes that somehow, he is showing strong leadership by putting the office of President above his own health. Downplaying the fact of having COVID-19 with all the risk and serious consequences that can have.

Donald Trump with groundless confidence told us “Don’t be afraid of Covid”.

Did the White House PR team really think this was a good idea?

Political analysts have pointed to Trump’s record on Coronavirus over the last year, and the fact that he is vulnerable in relation to his handling of COVID-19, as evidence suggests that many Americans are now critical of how he is handling the pandemic. Does Trump believe that if he downplays COVID-19, as someone who has had it and made the most amazing, wonderful and beautiful recovery, he can show the American people that the virus is not as bad as everyone is making out, and that his actions over the last year in handling COVID-19 have been correct?  On the other hand, Trump received the best drugs and medical treatment available in the world and sure only very few Americans can avail of these services, this strategy might well backfire on Trump.

Is Donald Trump really stage managing his COVID-19 diagnosis to help get himself re-elected?

Trump has ignored official medical advice on COVID-19, and the White House staff seem to be following suit by not wearing face masks. Joe Biden was even mocked at the first presidential debate by Trump for regularly wearing a face mask.

Maeve Reston from CNN reported in May that the White House has ramped up the PR Campaign to improve America’s perception of Trump’s handling of the Coronavirus.  Was the White House trying to move the focus away from Trump’s poor handling of Coronavirus over the last 10 months and on to the economy? Trump at the press conference used the same old platitudes along with announcing “Operation Warp Speed” to get a vaccine and the Obama administration was once again blamed for most of Trump’s failings.

Chris Cillizza from The Point commented “Donald Trump can’t distract voters from coronavirus now”.

The White House might have to rethink its PR strategy, or maybe it already has as Trump is now embracing Coronavirus, announcing his diagnosis was “a blessing from God”, and his eyes have been opened to the treatments available, and he intends to make sure, that all Americans will be able to have free access to these drugs by the end of the year. Is this just an empty promise to boost the election campaign? Trump’s sudden conversion to free universal health care in respect of COVID-19 for all Americans sits awkwardly with his policy of opposing and dismantling Obamacare – America’s first tentative step towards universal health care provision for all its citizens.

Can you imagine the dilemma the White House team have in trying to manage Trump’s image as a responsible leader against his unfettered ego which knows no bounds medical or otherwise?

Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman wrote in August “After all this death, Trump is still treating the pandemic as a PR problem.”

In my opinion, I think that Donald Trump is now using the pandemic and his COVID-19 diagnosis to further his election campaign.

Is this a good PR strategy to get a reality TV star re-elected as the US President?

Will the viewing public of this reality nightmare think he is doing ‘a really great job’?

I think not, it may be a case of “your fired”.

Kerry Bradley is a final year BSc Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on: Twitter – @kerryweat and Instagram: kerryweat.

How to go from a reality TV star to the President of the United States of America.

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Reality TV. The genre that has overtaken our lives, from watching ordinary people find the “love’ of their lives on a luxury island, to watching important political figures such as Stanley Johnson eating kangaroo…bits. We sit down and indulge ourselves on entertaining content, usually thanking god that it’s not us having to serenade Simon Cowell.

But what if one of these TV “stars” then decides one day, “I think I want to become president” (as most normal people do). What does it take in order for this to happen? Well no, this isn’t some sort of SNL comedy sketch. This is in fact real life, and it came down to one bumbling, blonde haired man by the name of Donald Trump and the help of the now infamous Cambridge Analytica.

By this point, if you do not know who Trump is then I do believe you may be in the extremely lucky minority. For those who do, I’m sure you ask yourself on a regular basis, how did this man ever become president of the United States (which, may I add would be a completely valid observation).  Well America, you largely have the work of a data company known as Cambridge Analytica to thank for that.

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Cambridge Analytica were a consulting firm, that was set up to combine data mining, data brokerage and analysis. They were able to offer services to business and political groups who wanted to “change audience behaviour.” They claimed that they where able to use certain algorithms, specifically tailored to your businesses needs, for example the ability to analyse consumer data and buying behaviours. In the case of the Trump campaign, their main objective was to ensure Donald Trump become president, by implementing a few “necessary” (unethical) steps.

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This is my summarised “How to” guide of Cambridge Analytica’s process of transforming Trump from a second rate Alan Sugar to President of the USA. A fool proof system, made to aid the fool!

  1. Exploitation of Facebook users privacy

Exploitation. A common way to gain information on your target market, is it not? Cambridge Analytica developed an algorithm for Facebook, which involved paying participants to partake in a survey about their personalities, and as a result allowing access to all their Facebook data and information. Roughly 270,000 people took part in this survey, which as a result lead to around 30 million  peoples data being accessed, as they were able to access friends of friends, all for the sake of $5! This allowed Cambridge Analytica to have extensive amount of data of the American public, which was what they effectively needed for the next step. 

2. Breakdown of data

They then come up with a system that allowed them to group off people in certain divisions, for example people with a particular personality trait were seen to be more likely to support “the wall” being built, and therefore could be swayed to vote for Trump with a small amount of persuasive targeted marketing. They scored each personality using the Ocean model, which effectively segregated people into different characters based on things like their openness to new experiences and their neuroticism, which was then used to decide those who were sensitive from those who are more secure and confident. Who knew a small amount of information we have posted on Facebook would allow for a mass break down of our personalities, frightening isn’t it?

3. Campaigning

Once they where able to branch the individuals off into large groups and sub groups within that, they were then able to find out which participants they would tailor their marketing for the campaign towards, as these were the people that possessed the necessary characteristics to be swayed to vote for Trump. They used devised communication within their digital marketing campaigns to “promote the story” to their targeted individuals. All the data research and segregation of groups meant that one groups campaign that they saw online would be completely different from another group, as both these individuals need to be attracted to the cause in a different way, and allows people to believe in the candidate and connect with everyone in a different way- and as a result encourage and increase voting numbers. The main (only) way they could persuade people to vote for Trump- ruin the reputation of Hilary Clinton. The perfect marketing plan wouldn’t you say? 

4. Extorting politicians

What is the best way to get politicians on your side during a campaign? Make alliances with them, create a mutual relationship, build friendships through past experiences? No, Cambridge Analytica decided to go for a more hands on method with one of their chief executives appearing to say that they are able to extort other politicians by sending woman to entrap them. A conventional method to win presidency, extort politicians and create fake news regarding them, right? This gave them the endorsement and support that they may have needed to sway voters towards Trump. 

A lot of technical stuff isn’t it? In simplified terms, all you have to do to become President is unethically access large quantities of data from unsuspecting participants of surveys, manipulate their data in a way to suit your intentions and create marketing content to drill propaganda into said person, simple right? Is it ethical and morally correct? No. Will it get you off the TV and saying “you’re fired” everyday? Yes. 

Since then, Cambridge Analytica has been shut down and under investigation for a number of possible offences they may be held liable for. Does that mean our national reality show treasure like Paul Hollywood or Gemma Collins will never become PM?

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I do want to end this on a more positive note, so rather than a detailed dissection on the large global effect Trumps presidency is having on many individuals that belong to minority groups, or his lack of consideration for our rapidly dying planet, I decided to end with a few of my favourite trump memes. Enjoy!

The Digital Election

In the 2008 Presidential Election, we witnessed relatively unknown candidate Barack Obama become front and center of the race. Through an engaging social media campaign and a well oiled public relations team Obama would go on to become the 49th President. Fast forward to 2016 and Donald Trump has become the first “twitter – based” presidency. Trumps use of Twitter has become a significant breakthrough for social media in politics. It allowed Trump to utilise and connect personally with his supporters, slam his opponents and outline his policies all in the one space. Jump to 2017, Corbyn’s unexpected rise in popularity in the UK General Election seemed to be because of a surge in Labour’s youth vote which has been attributed to their social media strategies. Two years later, we are in what could be the most important General Election the United Kingdom has seen and it’s already begun to be dominated by social media.

Below, I have listed some ways in which political parties and their leaders have started to use social media to advance their campaigns.

BLURRING THE TRUTH

We are all very aware of the impact ‘fake news’ can have on elections, no thanks to Donald Trump. However, a more sophisticated form has now emerged where videos of interviews have been edited to make those in question appear in a negative light. The first week of campaigning has been dominated by the Conservative party posting a video of a “Good Morning Britain” Interview with Labour party member Keir Starmer. In the video tweeted on the Conservative parties account, it appears to show the Labour member unable to answer a question on their parties policy towards Brexit. Although when played alongside the full interview, it shows the video has clearly been edited, as Starmer answered the question immediately.

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This clip tweeted by the Conservative party became one of the most watched videos by a political party or party leader since the vote to hold a general election. Despite the high number of viewers, it’s hard to gauge whether or not these viewers approved or disapproved of the tweet. For those who look into it, it can easily sway public opinion against the Conservatives or vice versa. The public may only look at the original tweet and may believe Labour’s members still don’t know their stance on Brexit.

THE TWITTER SCREENSHOT STRATEGY

If you have the usual social media sites, you will definitely have noticed screenshots of tweets by party leaders and political parties making their way on to Instagram and Facebook. The reason being, Twitter has fewer users than other sites but can easily kick-start the conversation on Facebook & Instagram when these are shared. Jeremy Corbyn has now started using the screenshot to reach a wider audience, his main social media platform is Twitter, and evidence suggests that those who talk politics on twitter tend to support Labour. Hence why Corbyn has now began posting screenshots of his tweets on to Facebook.

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Conservatives have also been posting screenshots of tweets and not just their own tweets, but other party members in order to criticise them. They posted a screenshot of a Corbyn tweet regarding Brexit policy labeling it as “dither & delay”. Instagram, which is generally known for its pleasing aesthetic is also seeing a large amount of screenshotted tweet posts. Both Corbyn and Johnson have been posting simple screenshots on their profiles, as it stands however Corbyn has been receiving much more interactions with his posts.

NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK

Both Corbyn and Johnson have started to use Snapchat for campaigning posts hinting at their attempts to engage with an even younger audience. The posts mainly combine video with graphics and text, however, don’t seem overly informative.

RELATABILITY & PERSONALITY

Now more than ever, the importance of personality and being relatable to the younger generation is crucial for politicians. What Johnson seems to lack in relatability, Corbyn has definitely taking advantage with this through the use of his videos on his personal Instagram account.

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The six second video clip above garnered over 175,000 views and has been by far the most successful on a politicians personal account. All of the parties seem to have raised their game on Instagram since this and there has been an increase in most political parties followers. There are over 20 million Instagram accounts in the UK with the majority of those users under 45. This is a key demographic that Labour really want to reach and its clear that they are going the right way about it.

A lot has changed since 2017 when Labour outsmarted the other political parties with their digital campaign. They can no longer be certain of dominance across all digital platforms. However, Labour’s strategy of attacking the rich through Twitter & Facebook have been well – received and they continue to garner the most interactions. For how long it will stay that way, we don’t know. I suspect a few more twists in this digital election.

Eoghan Gilmore is a final year Bsc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. He can be found at: Instagram – eoghangilmore , LinkedIn – https://ie.linkedin.com/in/eoghan-gilmore-106a89164