The Social Media Politicians: Personalisation, Authenticity, and Memes

The Social Media Politicians: Personalisation, Authenticity, and Memes

Víctor Hernández-Santaolalla (University of Seville, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3119-8.ch018

Abstract

Social media brings to the forefront two very important factors to today's politics: the prominent role of the internet and the importance of personalisation which is closely tied to a tendency of political candidates to overexpose their private lives. This does not mean that the candidate becomes more relevant than the political party or the ideological platforms thereof, but the interest tends to fall on the candidate's lifestyle; on their personal characteristics and their most intimate surroundings, which blurs the line between the public and private spheres. Online profiles are used as a showcase for the public agenda of the politician at the same time as they gather, on a daily basis, the thoughts, tastes and leisure time activities of the candidates. This chapter offers a reflection of the ways in which political leaders develop their digital narratives, and how they use the social media environment to approach citizens.
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Personalisation As A Feature Of “New” Politics

Political personalisation has been perceived as one of the fundamental characteristics of the so-called contemporary politics (Agranoff, 1974; Castells, 2009; Maarek, 2011), in line with other aspects such as the growing relevance of media—especially related to television—the simplification of political discourse, social fragmentation (Bennett, 2012) or partisan dealignment (Dalton & Wattenberg, 2000). Regarding the latter, there is no lack of examples in which the evolution of certain political organisations has been linked to the trajectory of their leaders, such as Forza Italia and Silvio Berlusconi or En Marche and Emmanuel Macron (Pedersen & Rahat, 2019), to the point of finding parties that bear the name of their leader in their names, such as the Italian Noi con Salvini or the GIL, acronym of Independent Liberal Group (Grupo Independiente Liberal in Spanish), founded by Jesús Gil y Gil. In the face of this, Daoust, Blais and Péloquin-Skulski (2019) found, however, that despite declining membership or laxity in party loyalty, parties remain more important than leaders. After all, parties become more stable than their members, which invites easier and more lasting identification with the electorate. In this way, it would be expected that loyal voters would cast their votes according to the political party, while those more fickle voters would pay more attention to the candidate or the programme; although it is true that in such decision making, each country’s election system plays a role (Canel, 2006), as well as the personal preference of each voter (Rospir, 1999). In this way and facing the impossibility of drawing a reliable conclusion based on the variables involved, the most suitable strategy to follow seems to be for the candidate, the political party and the programme to integrate coherently and consistently with the electoral message.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Individualisation: Focus on the individual politician as the central actor in politics.

Strategic Stereotype Theory: Coined by Fridkin and Kenney, it refers to the management of gender stereotypes by politicians for profit.

Meme: According to Richard Dawkins, unit of cultural transmission.

Netroot: Coined by Jerome Armstrong, it refers to online communities of political activists.

Personalisation of Politics: The process by which individual politicians become more important than collective bodies, such as political parties or parliaments.

Privatisation: Focus on the politician as a person who has a private role, apart from his or her public role.

Politician Celebrity: A politician who intentionally or unintentionally sets him or herself up as a celebrity in front of the public.

Politainment: Fusion of politics and entertainment.

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