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Political Participation Through Social Media

29. June 2009 – 11:30 by Interns at 21c

While many traditional newspaper publishing companies are loosing their clients to the internet, social websites such as Facebook or MySpace are capturing new members every second.  It appears that such websites are becoming the most effective means of distributing private or public information. 

 Indeed, citizens can express their political opinions by being supporters of different political parties or presidents on Facebook pages. As for instance, the pages of the French president Nicolas Sarkozy have 95 724 members. His pages provide access to all relevant news from the government. Members can read about the laws and re-forms that the government intends to implement, speeches that have been delivered on different occasions or official visits made by the president. By leaving positive or negative comments, people can create pressure on the decision makers to revisit certain legislation proposals or they can influence political views of other readers.

 This system permits people to identify with different political believes. There are however a few drawbacks. Some individuals do not want to join these groups on principle of discretion as their membership is visible to all. Some people think that joining a specific political group could lead to a conflict at their workplace or community.

 If we take the example of Barak Obama, who built his political campaign on the Internet by using means such as Facebook and YouTube, we can see how the new technology can directly change voters participation and election turnouts. Through internet, Obama established connection with otherwise inaccessible groups and become the most popular president in the world.

On his Facebook pages, we can find videos of his speeches, his agenda, projects he is planning to organize and various newspaper articles about his presidency. Moreover, his pages include some personal photos. This particularity made Barack Obama known as the “human” or “family” president.

 The power of social networking is even greater in France where people are known for their political activity. There are thousands of groups and blogs discussing, opposing or supporting the French laws. We take an example of one group against the Law “DARCOS” created and named after the minister of education in December 2008. The group has already 21 664 members with a total of 541 comments. Law Darcos plans to re-form the French high school diploma (Baccalaureate). Prepared in four years at present, the Minister plans to reduce this time to one year. The Facebook group represent the discontent students and the many political slaps that France has suffered this year.

 The Internet opened a new wave of political participation reaching more people than ever before.  Youngsters use groups on social networking websites to read and comment on certain laws but also to organize public gatherings and protests. This social networking trend may lead to a greater political transparency and public inclusion. As a result, one may wonder if Facebook and blogs are good ways to etablish sustainable relationship between the government and citizens. That is a question that only time can answer.

by Emmanuelle Cloarec and Charlene Bouiller

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