“I like TV better because the audience can’t answer back”, said a minister of foreign government when asked about how he is keeping up with the latest social media development.
He made a fair point. It is much more comfortable for him to talk – as politicians naturally do – about what he intends to change and enhance, get recorded and send that neatly phrased material out there during prime time. Thousands watch. And though they might shout at the TV screen or shake their heads in disagreement or disbelief, the dear minister won’t see or hear any of that. He will be on his way back to the hotel, in the soft backseat of a shiny limo – perhaps with a satisfied smile on his face that he once again made his point before the camera.
As the minister speaks on TV, live bloggers, commentators, grassroots journalists and active citizens are already tearing his neatly phrased package apart.
TV today may still be a one-way communication model but as viewers seek dialogue, exchange and democracy (the modern foundation of Western politics by the way) as well as a way to relief their frustration, to participate and respond, social media inevitably overshadows any other media – TV, too.
And as the minister checks his smartphone from the limo he may find a warning message from his PR manager. A “shit storm” is circulating on Twitter and Co. “Ah those darned social media”, he might swear under his breath. He’d love to ignore the warning but he must realise that disagreement and disbelief, that the real world feedback, long ago have left the domestic lounge and gone straight onto the world wide web. Propaganda now is an obsolete concept.
This gives a glimpse of hope to the world. One does not even necessarily need to leave the sofa to go and protest. One touch on your mobile phone will do. Just as much one touch may generate thousands to meet and protest together (keyword: Arab Spring).
Social media is not a convenient thing for politicians (this is why certain dictators have banned it completely). It is, however, convenient for the people. It inevitably fosters democracy and places citizens right where they belong: at the heart of political interests and decisions.