Politics and the social media revolution

Professor Hallvard Moe on how developments in the media have impacted on political communication.

Foto av medieviter Hallvard Moe brukt i Hubro 01, 2013.
Eivind Senneset

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Name: Hallvard Moe

Age: 36

Profession: Professor of media studies

Called in for questioning: to defend his research on politicians’ use of social media


What are the advantages for politicians in using public service broadcasters to promote their message?

“They can reach many people. Also, a public service broadcaster such as NRK, which is Norway’s answer to the BBC, has a duty to accommodate all parties and provide a balanced presentation in sum. At least in theory.”


In what way can it be disadvantageous to use these public service broadcasters?

“The disadvantage of public broadcasting, compared to say social media, is that relatively few people get to participate. Also, discussions are directed by a handful of editors, who are often based in Norway’s capital Oslo. This curtails the debate.”


What type of politician is best on television?

“Politicians are at an advantage if they can provide emotional, personal stories and mimic cordial conversation. A classic example is Richard Nixon’s Checkers speech. In a televised interview he told the viewers that he were to keep only one special gift, it would be the dog that his children called Checkers. He did this to garner sympathy after being caught up in a bribery scandal.”


And what type of politician does not work on television?

“Probably politicians who act as if they speak at a public meeting, who are shouting and gesturing. On television they will come across as intense and maybe even slightly mad.”


Do you have any examples of any of today’s Norwegian politicians who appear out of tune on television?

“Not really. Today all politicians are media trained and make a pretty good impression when appearing in mainstream media.”


What are the advantages for politicians in using social media to promote their message?

“The main advantage of online media and social media compared to traditional mass media is that everyone gets a word in. You can get into a more direct dialogue with people than you can via traditional mass media.”


In what way can it be disadvantageous to use social media?

“The major television channels and their key news and discussion programmes have a much higher status than social media. If you want to be at the centre of attention or try to set the agenda, there is no escaping traditional mass media. Also the major players in mass media are often also major players in social media. TV is still very important!”


Who is the best social media politician?

“Barack Obama’s two presidential campaigns have shown that he is a shrewd operator. His use of the internet has been quite clever and delivered the desired results.”


What does he do differently?

“Well, primarily it’s about having access to sufficient resources. You need a lot of money and enough staff to use new platforms to raise funds, generate support and spread the word.”


How should politicians act when they use social media?

“Obviously there needs to be increased awareness of what is public and what is private.”


What is the best way for politicians to combine television and social media?

“Use television to reach the masses. Use social media to provide background information, remind voters of the issues and to carry on discussions from traditional media.”


How has politics changed since the advent of new media?

“Social media has changed the way politicians express themselves. In the past politicians had time to deliberate. They could reflect and provide an answer in a newspaper or on a television show the next day. The Internet knows no deadline. It’s on 24/7. The discussion is on going. This changes the everyday routines of politics and affects how politicians communicate.”


Is the public debate shallower as a result of this?

“Obviously it has become more fragmented. More voices may be heard, but there are less people listening to the speaker.”


There is talk of new media being more democratic. Is this a correct observation?

“It is definitely easier for people to let themselves be heard. But whether this strengthens democracy is debatable. Democracy is about more than numbers. It’s as much about what is being discussed in public, who people discuss with and the end results of all this dialogue.”


So does it pay for a politician to do the tweeting himself-herself or to hire communication advisers?

“That is mainly a practical question. If politicians were to do all of this themselves, there would hardly be time for anything else. But it pays to be honest about who does the talking. There have been some instances where, ironically, politicians have been tweeting whilst being interviewed live on TV. That hardly inspires confidence.”


As we are approaching parliamentary elections here in Norway, what advise would you give politicians when it comes to media use?

“Get yourself on TV!”