Using Micro-influencers in Politics

Whenever a new technology surfaces, brands–corporate as well as personal–look to see how they can take advantage of it. With the advent of social media, many people have aimed to promote their brands on those platforms in order to gain influence and to make a living off of it. Recently, this practice entered the political world as well.

In 2016, the current president managed to win the election (in electoral though not in popular votes) due to his strategy of highly targeted social media ads. If nothing else, the current president was at least smart enough to realize where to meet and talk to the current voters. As everyone is leading very busy lives, canvasing has decreased in impact because people are rarely home and if they are, they avoid opening the door to avoid talking to sales people. The current president side-stepped this hurdle by meeting voters on a platform that they gladly spend all of their free time and where they can get small snippets of information without committing to an entire conversation. This campaign drew even more attention due to the infamous personal data breach that was involved in the campaign. In any case, setting aside the (serious but out of scope) data breach and the actual contents of the campaign, the strategy of meeting voters on social media was very effective.

During this year’s presidential election, yet another billionaire has joined the race. Michael Bloomberg has devised a similar approach to the one described above. The former NYC mayor has taken to social media to gain traction. Unlike the current president, Bloomberg faces an additional hurdle in that most social media have banned all political advertisements in order to avoid fake news scandals and misinformation. As a result, the media mogul has provided an incentive to micro-influencers to post memes that show why they support Bloomberg for president.

This has been controversial on many levels. First, by incentivizing social media micro-influencers, Bloomberg uses a loophole in the political ads ban by essentially going through a middle man in order to post political ads. As a result, fake news can still easily be spread leading to misinformation. Additionally, many of the memes are simply satirical conversations that have nothing to do with the issues facing this country. Thus, if theses memes are successful, many people may decide to vote for the former mayor for all the wrong reasons. Finally, many fear that Bloomberg is buying his votes: first with the massive TV advertising budget and now with the social media campaign. Bloomberg is running his presidential campaign like he would run any of his media subsidiaries.

All that being said, the benefits of this social media strategy of using micro-influencers to create content is that the billionaire is not in charge of the message. If people are willing to stake their reputation in order to support him, it means that he actually has genuine support (even if incentivized). If people do not support him, a negative memes campaign could easily tarnish his reputation, which is not the case with political ad brainwashing campaigns. The benefits of this campaign for the public is that it has the possibility of starting a conversation, engaging otherwise non-interested people and getting a better voter turnout in November.

What is your position? Do the benefits outweigh the potential dangers or should social media be outright banned from being used in political elections?

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