Saturday, February 27, 2016

Social media may be ready to shape the political field

Do you know Pewdiepie? How about Michelle Pham?

Your sons and daughters probably do.

Pewdiepie made $7 million in ad revenue from his Youtube videos that show him playing video games.

Michelle Pham shows how to apply makeup, and makes more than $3 million a year.

There are hosts of musicians making a living on Youtube without the need for a record label. Some comedians are doing OK without ever having been on The Tonight Show.

Millennials are not watching TV; They stream videos.

The age range that watches the least TV is 12- t17- year-olds;18- to 24-year-olds watch a bit more; and 25- to 34-year-olds watch a bit more.

The largest group of viewers is getting older.

My adult son gets excellent civics and political lessons from a cheaply made animated Youtube series called “Extra Credit,” covering video games, history, civics and reforming education. His views are shaped by that. I don’t think he’s ever watched “Meet the Press.”

The young are comfortable finding their celebrities online instead of on TV. Why not their political representatives?

What if a person made a Youtube video describing their vision for their community? And what if people watching dissected his views, then maybe created their own videos in response, resulting in a significant number of them forming a consensus?

Then that group chooses one of their own to run for city council. They promote their candidate to their neighbors and friends on Facebook.

Maybe others share their views with a few priorities of their own. They too choose to run for council and pledge to support one another.

A new political party just formed – or perhaps a new movement within an existing political party.

It would work on a national scale, as well. A great orator could make a series of Youtube speeches. If it struck a chord with others, word of it would spread via social media. View counts would record its popularity.

The orator could have entered the primary in New Hampshire. He/she might never have to stump the state, just reach locals by supporters sharing their videos with friends and neighbors. Even a modest success in an early primary would build the reputation and send more people online to seek them out.

Supporters could run for state houses, Congress and the Senate. The traditional parties would flood the airwaves with negative ads and pack the political talk shows with pundits hostile to the idea. The millennials might never see them, since they do not watch as much TV.

As the baby boomers leave the scene, and the millennials and those coming up behind them seek their political candidates online, the power of the new party would grow.

It is hard to fake being authentic when a candidate does his or her own social media. The millennials are adept at separating PR from authentic conversation. Slick campaigns will actually be a detriment.

This model does not require large-scale campaign donations. There is no need for TV ads or mail pieces. All the promotion is done online where the millennial voters are.

Meaningful campaign reform will be tough to get since those who benefit from the status quo are the very legislators that we need to make the change.

This is a way to bypass the need for significant contributions at all.

Sure, some consultants and social media experts would be helpful, but individuals donating with the $2,000 per-person limit could finance that. Anyone using PAC money would be a pariah in this new world of openness and transparency.

When this concept started to mature to where I wanted to write about it, I googled “online political party” and was delightfully surprised to learn Canada has one. They have yet to get anyone elected, indeed get more than a 100 votes for most candidates, but it is beginning.

Argentina has one too and came within shouting distance of capturing a seat in the legislature.

Am I being horribly naive? Maybe. An online political party goes up against some of the strongest institutions this county has, ones that are very adept at fighting to retain their prerogatives.

On the other hand, one strong message voters seem to be sending in our early primaries is they no longer want to rubber stamp the choices made for them by party elites.

A year ago, who would have thought Jeb Bush would be out, Donald Trump leading and Hillary Clinton fighting for first place? The adoration of Trump and Sanders sends the message voters are mad and want to make their own choices.

Politicians are learning to use social media to spread their word. The young are getting their news, relationships and making new celebrities all through social media. Why shouldn’t they find their new representatives that way too? Not only find them, but help mold the representatives’ views. That’s a topic for a future column.

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