Social media changes campaign culture
By Yi Whan-woo
The just-ended parliamentary elections saw a wider use of social networking services (SNS) in campaigns.
An increasing number of candidates relied on social media after learning about its effectiveness in last October’s Seoul mayoral by-election. Then-activist Park Won-soon won support online from liberal-minded voters and scored an easy victory.
Candidates including conservatives turned their attention to SNS to encourage voters to head to polling stations at the last minute.
The campaigns on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook were made possible as the National Election Commission (NEC) ruled in January that they were legitimate.
The main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP), which contributed to Park Won-soon’s victory, utilized SNS once again, while the ruling Saenuri Party did the same.
Candidates from districts in a neck-and-neck race or those from politically-heated areas were aggressive in using the sites to attract more voters.
The activities had merit in enhancing the development of participatory democracy, as people no longer had to rely on conventional media setting the agenda.
For instance, Son Su-jo, a 27-year-old candidate from the Saenuri Party, and her contender Moon Jae-in from the DUP in Busan used Twitter comments when sensitive political issues surfaced. Voters could track each candidate’s point of view to decide which one to support.
SNS also allows ordinary people to be a one-man medium sending their messages simultaneously to many people.
A male tweeter drew attention both online and offline when he uploaded a poster to encourage voting in the April 11 parliamentary elections.
The poster ignited controversy over allegedly exploiting females with an image of a woman’s foot wearing a red high heel leaving a red stamp as the symbol of a ballot.
The image urging active participation of female voters drew more attention when Jin Joong-kwon, a well-known political critic, re-tweeted the poster.
The poster continued to spread among local Twitter users, stirring online debate.
While such activities intend to promote politics online, experts worry about distorted views spreading through SNS.
Some candidates sent messages through SNS with no factual background, with an irresponsible attitude toward supporters who easily could be misled.
“Those liberal-minded users tend to express their thoughts more actively than conservative users. Also users of SNS tend to be spontaneous in making decisions,” an expert said.
“So the agenda set through SNS tend to be subjective rather than objective. I don’t think public opinion from SNS represents all members of the community,” he added.
Other experts said restrictions should be outlined in the future to prevent candidates who make groundless and slanderous allegations about their rivals on social media gaining the upper hand.