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Social Media Networks’ Impacts on Political Communication Analytical Essay

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Updated: Nov 15th, 2019

Introduction

Social media networks have greatly influenced political communication in modern society. Its impact on political activities and governance is especially profound. In the book, the Internet Imaginaire, Patrice Flichy says the development of the internet (social media) is among the most revolutionary processes in modern society (more specifically because the internet has become a super-highway of information).

From the increasing importance of the internet, today, Flichy argues that most politicians have only joined an ongoing trend of designers, business executives, and individuals (among others) who have resorted to use social media as a technical utopia for advancing their goals.

Since many people have accepted the internet as their main communication paradigm, the internet has become widely successful in changing how politicians interact with their subjects. In sum, Flichy argues that the internet has been widely successful in politics because it transforms the interaction between leaders and their followers.

From an emphasis on the Middle East political space, this paper focuses on explaining the impact of social media in the UAE political life by exploring if social media networks make leaders more visible and transparent. To have a practical understanding of this issue, this paper focuses on the social media activities of UAE’s foreign affairs minister, H.H. Abdulla Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Through an analysis of his Twitter account, this paper proposes that social media networks make political accountability easier and friendlier, as it increases the visibility and transparency of political leaders. However, to understand this fact, this study first explains how social media has created a new way to represent political leaders in the UAE.

A New Way to Represent the Political Leader in the UAE Culture

The social media presence of Abdulla Bin Zayed draws significant inferences from the works of Louis Marin, in the book, the King’s Portrait. Marin largely borrows from the experiences of King Louis XIV in portraying the image of a politician as an immortal onlooker (through the transformation of politicians from theological bodies to immortal political figures).

Flichy contextualises this transformation through his understanding of the power that most politicians enjoy in transforming themselves to political relevance today (through social media). Marin explains the same situation, although from a historical perspective, by saying that the transformation of politicians to political relevance (through the internet) is a symbol of absolutism.

Absolutism represents a political order that redefines the meaning and status of representation by redefining the configurations of power. Broadly, Marin’s work shows how politicians achieve social control through art. The relationship between politics and art is unfamiliar for most political studies, but it symbolises the interaction between aesthetics and kingship.

This relationship also stems from the interaction between state, God, and the truth. A complete symmetry of these three aspects of governance stems from the absolute achievement of sovereignty and power.

Most literature that have explored the impact of social media in the UAE political space have chronologically shown that the growth of social media has led to a shift of its use from a social paradigm to a political and civic paradigm.

Recent events surrounding the Arab spring and the increased influence of civic movements in the Arab world have mainly supported this change. The influence of social media in the UAE political space associates with several political and social factors, like the acceptance of divergent political views, the support of social and political changes, people’s empowerment, and the influence of social media on people’s views of the society.

Across the Arab world, social media use has, however, introduced political change in different measures. Particularly, social media has had a huge impact on how political leaders interact with their followers. A key issue that manifests here is persuasion because it explains how political leaders interact with their followers.

The role of social media in persuading people to follow a leader is a departure from the traditional role of social media as a tool for collecting signatures, or for advocating a social or political cause. Nonetheless, every political leader has a distinct reason for using social media.

An analysis of Sheikh Zayed’s Twitter page shows that the uses of social media are highly dynamic (even though it should primarily increase the level of interaction between political leaders and their followers). Therefore, today, social media serves to provide a more intimate/personal access to political leaders. For example, people know Sheikh Zayed more intimately through random tweets. For example, one tweet (which appears on his Twitter page) says, “Read my piece on how Sheikh Zayed’s childhood and early youth shaped his character as a leader.

Such tweets offer a personal insight into the life of the political leader. Despite providing a personal touch to political leadership, social media also provides a platform where people can be entertained and informed about political events.

For example, in Sheikh Zayed’s Twitter account, there is a lot of information regarding the dangers of driving, the importance of eating healthy, personal inspiration (among other factors). In sum, social media has helped to package political leaders differently by presenting them as multifaceted individuals with a more personal touch (than before). This platform gives them visibility in their public lives.

Too Much Visibility

While social media offers immense advantages to businesses, political institutions, individuals, and political leaders, it also has its disadvantages. A common disadvantage is too much visibility. In the past, visibility was mainly limited to the presence of individuals on one location and at a specific time. However, with the development of social media communication, people do not have to be at the same place and at the same time to be visible; online presence gives them this visibility.

This new form of visibility has a huge impact on the relationship between visibility and power because it may destroy or build the reputation of politicians. However, smart political leaders seek the services of third parties, like public relations (PR) firms, to manage this new level of representation and exploit it to their advantage. Usually, such political leaders use this platform to create a strong support base for their political causes.

Relative to the above assertion, Abdulla Bin Zayed uses his visibility on his Twitter page to create a strong support base for his official duties. As the minister of foreign affairs, Abdulla Bin Zayed uses his Twitter account to communicate positive issues about the UAE. For example, his Twitter account has the following tweets, “Abu Dhabi is the world’s fourth favourite city, ranked behind only New York, London, and Paris.

American University in Paris receives anonymous donation from UAE in honour of late educator.” These tweets report positive issues (such as security, development, tourism, and charitable matters) about the UAE and some of its cities. A positive portrayal of the UAE also complements his role as an ambassador for the government (especially in his capacity as the minister for foreign affairs).

Depending on the contextual framework, too much visibility may be a positive and negative thing for social media users. For example, for political leaders, too much visibility is a positive thing because political leaders are public figures and the higher their visibility, the better they achieve political effectiveness. Even though some political leaders use social media for the right reasons, the proper management of increased public attention may expose such leaders to new risks.

New risks create new areas of fragility for political leaders because even though the smart ones manage this visibility to their advantage, they cannot have an absolute control over social media issues. Therefore, their efforts to exploit social media may still work to their disadvantage. The public may, however, enjoy increased political transparency through social media.

Increased Transparency in the UAE Political Life – A Social Media Analysis

The role of social media in increasing the level of transparency in the political life of the UAE largely stems from its influence in determining how people share information (its implication on governance is usually very profound).

Social media, therefore, introduces new risks and opportunities for the UAE political space because on the one hand, political leaders may use this platform to influence people’s perceptions, but on the other hand, the same platform has greatly empowered the people to question and criticise political activities in the country. Therefore, through an angry blog or tweet, someone can easily tarnish the name of a political leader.

While many political leaders have understood these inherent risks and opportunities, they cannot afford to be complacent. Increased transparency is, therefore, one issue that political leaders cannot wish away.

While traditional communication channels included extreme barriers of bureaucracy and lack of access to political leaders, social media has broken down these barriers and made leaders more accessible to the electorate. This way, the electorate finds it easy to question their leaders. In turn, the leaders have become more accountable and transparent in their political and professional activities.

A tweet from Abdulla Bin Zayed’s account confirms the above assertion because it contains evidence of public complaints and responses to such complaints (increased accountability). For example, one person said, “believe it or not; they called to tell me that they credit the money back based on my complaint.” This tweet shows an interesting dynamic of social media communication in politics because it highlights a seamless communication between the electorate and political leaders.

In the past, this type of communication was one-sided (from the political leaders to the electorate). A transformed communication framework outlines one aspect of Flichy’s argument (in the book, the internet Imaginaire) that captures the essence of this paper – redefining information sources. Through a constructivist model, Flichy says the transformation of communication (through the internet) means that information does not have to originate from only one source.

Instead, people may interact freely without experiencing the traditional communication barriers held by politicians and mainstream media. This assertion largely explains the nature of information in the Twitter account of Abdulla Bin Zayed because most of the content (tweets) appearing in his pages do not necessarily originate from him.

The potentials that social media and other internet platforms hold for politicians create a huge bulk of the arguments presented by Flichy because he says that the internet has helped politicians to transform mask utopia to liberal ideology. This argument mentions the role of social media in transforming the political causes of some US politicians, such as Al Gore, who used the internet to transform mask utopia to liberal ideology.

Nonetheless, evidence of unbiased information sources of interaction also exists between other Middle Eastern leaders and their subjects. In sum, this level of interaction shows that social media has greatly increased the level of transparency in political governance in the Middle East.

Conclusion

After weighing the findings of this paper, we can affirm that social media networks increase the level of political accountability and transparency in the Middle East. Evidence from Abdulla Bin Zayed’s Twitter account also shows that social media has helped to package political leaders as more humane, fun, and entertaining. However, the main goal of a political leader, in using social media, is to persuade their followers to be more familiar with their thinking.

As leaders strive to achieve this objective, they should use the increased visibility they get through social media to advance their ideologies and relate better with their followers. Marin says that the proper use of social media may immortalise the relevance of political leaders because they can re-invent themselves this way.

Comprehensively, smart political leaders identify the right types of conversations (that promote their cause) and engage their audiences accordingly. This attempt should be followed with extreme persuasion because the value of social media exists here – persuading the electorate.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Social Media Networks’ Impacts on Political Communication." November 15, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/social-media-networks-2/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Social Media Networks’ Impacts on Political Communication'. 15 November.

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