The proliferation of social media has transformed the way we interact with each other, but also how world leaders interact and communicate with us. New media has transformed the political landscape. There is a sharp transition from using legacy media and traditional press conferences to using new media by political leaders to address people. Yesterday, Donald Trump took advantage of the new media to address the Americans and give them a ‘Trump Transition’ update. He released a no-nonsense, infomercial-style video online, informing the people how he intended to “make America great again”.
Taking a note of this The New York Times remarked, “The video underscored the extent to which Mr. Trump intends to try to navigate around the traditional newspaper and television media outlets as he seeks to communicate his message to the public.”
Before any political leader, however, it was Barack Obama who was the first to truly recognise the power, massive reach and impact of new media. It became the linchpin of his political campaign in 2007 and continues to be the backbone for his communication with the public. Apart from adopting Twitter (@BarackObama) and Facebook as platforms, he also used podcasts and YouTube to interact ‘directly’ with the people. His campaign was successful, experts note, because he empowered the common people to be more engaged with him through his online campaign videos, mobile messaging and email advocacy.
In fact, he spoke about this at length in 2013, in the White House State Dining Room, addressing a room full of journalists and influential people to discuss his forthcoming agenda. He highlighted how social media would be used for encouraging a more enthused participation from the citizens regarding the decisions the government made. Obama referred to his 2007 visit to the Google Headquarters in Mountain View, Silicon Valley, where he tried to figure how technology (new media) could be ensure a wider citizen participation. “And the idea was simple,” he said. “Instead of bringing more people to the campaign, we wanted to bring the campaign to more people, and let them determine its course and its nature…And I very much felt that some of the things that we were doing to help us get elected could also be used once we were elected.” Since then, Obama has extensively used new media platforms to communicate with the people. It made him more accessible to the public and that had a massive resonance with the people. In the minds of the Americans, Obama was no longer a larger-than-life figure seen on the television screen. His interactions on social media made him more down-to-earth, more human.
The current President-elect Donald Trump, seems to be taking cue from Obama. However, the shift in the reliance on social media this time has been more apparent. In 2008, when Obama was voted as a President-elect, he held a press conference – a traditional method of addressing the people. In 2016, Trump who is the President-elect, addressed the people via Twitter:
Trump has been extremely active on Twitter. From updating his followers on how he’s slowly building his cabinet of advisers, to demanding an apology from the cast of Hamilton for their ‘treatment’ of future Vice-President Mike Pence, to describing The New York Times as ‘failing’ before completely changing his tune yesterday, Trump has ferociously used the medium to keep the people up-to-date with his perspective on things.
New media can be accessed almost anywhere, at any point of time. Even, in emergencies. In July 2016, when Turkey was undergoing an unexpected (and later failed) coup, a beleaguered President Erdogan used FaceTime to virtually address his people to fight against the coup. He even used Facebook to encourage people to rebel, “This is an attempt against national will. We are with the people and democracy to the last our breath. We are calling for our nation to protect their national will.”
In India itself, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a deep understanding of how to use technology to his advantage – primarily to reach to the younger citizens of the country. In 2014, during the election campaign, a hologram of Modi was projected in several rallies in his attempt to reach out to five million voters across the subcontinent, particularly in remote villages where Modi could not be physically present. The hologram technology was the first to be used in an Indian electoral campaign. During the Global Citizen Festival held in Mumbai in November that featured headlining acts by Coldplay and Jay Z, the Prime Minister addressed the crowd via a live-streamed video talking about his demonetisation decision and asking for solicited support.
He is also very active on Twitter with 24.8 million followers as of today. Modi recently used the platform to ask the people their views on demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes.
The tweet directs you to the Narendra Modi App, which invites you to rate his demonetisation step. “Some people are creating uproar over the issue and I want you all to give points to the government over this decision,” he said.
Miles across, the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has used social media to communicate with his social-media savvy country, often also using it to voice his unconditional support to different communities thriving within the country. For instance, in July, he released a short video via Twitter, sending his wishes to Muslims who were celebrating Eid al-Fitr and breaking their fast after Ramadan:
Last year in October, Trudeau live-streamed his Liberal campaign platform at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo via Facebook Live. At the event, he fleshed out the remaining agenda of his Liberal campaign, and invited citizens to ask him questions via the social media platform. Apart from discussing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Trudeau also spoke about his plans to have a 50 per cent increase in the Canada Student Grants as student aid.
World leaders in other countries too have understood the importance of this alternative method of communication. This is a snapshot of how certain leaders have responded to the surge of the digital media available to them at their fingertips.