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Politics and the social media soapbox

TN Artwork Manager and Green Party Local Council candidate Ed Dunsdon talks about the impact social media has had on smaller parties in the run up to Election day. 

It’s Election day and if the pollsters are to be believed, it is going to be a tough one to call. What we have seen, which we didn't see in 2010, is a sizeable impact on the political scene by the smaller parties. After a century of predominantly two party politics we've witnessed a shift, and the rise in the prominence of what would have been regarded, or derided, as 'fringe' parties. The SNP, Plaid Cymru, UKIP and The Green Party. Today will see whether this hyperbole and bluster will correspond into votes, to bums on seats in the Commons or whether actually the voters prefer the status quo.

The smaller parties have taken the opportunity in this election to reach a far greater audience than they ever have before. As well as the TV debates, the social media soapbox has allowed the opinions and policies of these parties and their supporters to be disseminated far and wide. 2010 saw the first major impact of Twitter and Facebook on the general election but the last five years has seen a huge rise in the use of social media, for gathering and distributing information, by ordinary voters not just the media twitterati.

A third of young people (18-24) think that social media will influence their vote (10 March 2015 IPSOS Mori) second only to the television debates. Social media has allowed the Green Party to raise its profile nationally and to allow smaller local parties to organise and promote themselves. The last 12 months saw the ‘Green Surge’ when membership quadrupled from 14,000 in March 2014 to 55,775 in March 2015, in no small part to the use of social media. This took party membership above that of UKIP and the Liberal Democrats.

At a local level, in Bolton, the Green Party trebled its followers on Twitter over the last twelve months. The Party's use of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have given its Parliamentary candidates a platform, usually out of reach with the financial constraints, that can make an election campaign a very uneven playing field. The unfair financial advantage of the leading parties can be significantly negated through the effective use of social media. It has allowed smaller groups like these to link up and connect with other groups and organisations, empowering them collectively and politically.

Parties like the Greens are using social media effectively to help bring them into the mainstream and challenge preconceptions. The various social media platforms have to be used with integrity and constraint, as we have seen it can be a double-edged sword for any party. If you make a misjudged comment or post something you immediately regret, it is out there for the full scrutiny of society, and your rivals are waiting for slip-ups. Natalie Bennett had a couple of “car crash’ interviews early in the campaign that were rapidly distributed on YouTube and Twitter, it could have been disastrous but supporters were able to react immediately, in this hyper connected environment, and come out in support. 

This election has raised the profile of the Greens, whether it will translate into seats is yet to be seen, but from today the Greens can start to build a credible narrative, build on the ‘Green Surge’ and plan for a positive future.

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