Social Media Impact on Political Leaders

Introduction

Since the start of the internet boom, in the early nineties, there has been significant growth in the number of networked people. In fact, the number of networked people has increased from a few million people, in the early nineties, to a few billion people in the 2000s. A formidable force that has increased the number of online people is the growth of social media. Indeed, social media has attracted many actors in the political sphere (including nongovernmental organisations, regular citizens, and even governments). This development raises important questions for different governments because it makes them think of how such online developments affect their state interests, and how they can position their foreign policies to benefit from such developments.

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As the telecommunication landscape becomes sophisticated and concentrated, people are enjoying more access to information and better ways of airing their grievances. As seen from recent developments in the Middle East, social media has prompted politicians to change their strategies to take advantage of this new communication landscape. For example, in Vanilla, social media increased the pressure on politicians to avoid loosely coordinated politics and adopt a more effective approach for communicating their strategies and actions, for the betterment of their people.

In other parts of the world, social media has led to government changes and democratic reforms. People have also used social media to express dissatisfaction with poor governance, as a demand for better leadership. Such was the case in the Philippines when parliament impeached President Joseph Estrada. Initially, during his hearing, the Philippine congress ruled that the government would not present crucial evidence against the impeached president.

However, a few hours after this declaration, there was a widespread public outcry from Filipinos, who later took to the streets, demanding that the government present the evidence against the president. Using social media, political activists mobilised Filipinos to go to the streets and demand unbiased trials. Concisely, the citizens feared that their corrupt president would find his way back to power. Therefore, through several text messages written, “Go to EDSA,” millions of Filipinos thronged the streets of Manila in protest. Motivated by the fear of losing public support, Philippine’s Congress quickly reversed their decisions and allowed for the presentation of evidence against the president. The government later found the president guilty of corruption and forced him out of office.

The same script has occurred in other parts of the world. For example, Spain witnessed a social media revolution that ousted Spanish Prime Minister, José María Aznar. Aznar had earlier blamed Basque Separatist movements for organising Spanish bombings in the country’s transit routes. Soon after the people removed him from power, the communist party of Moldova also relinquished power after massive demonstrations rocked the country, partly coordinated by social media.

The party relinquished power because the citizens were dissatisfied with fraudulent elections. Besides governments and political parties, the church has also received negative attention from social media. For example, recently, there was widespread condemnation against the Catholic Church for defending child rapists, after evidence leaked to social media, regarding the widespread child rape acts in the church.

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Nevertheless, despite the widespread success that online communication exhibits in advancing political agendas, there are many examples of the failure of social media to provide substantial political changes. For example, in March 2006, Belarus political activists used social media as a platform to organise street protests to oust President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s, amid accusations of vote-rigging. These street protests first swelled, and then faltered soon afterwards.

This protest angered the President and increased his determination to control the spread of social media in his country. The same social media failure occurred in Iran when protestors tried to demonstrate vote-rigging attempts by the government, which left Mir Hossein Mousavi (a presidential candidate in the 2009 Iran elections) a loser in the elections. The government embarked on a violent crackdown that soon led to the end of the revolt. The same outcome occurred in Thailand when technologically savvy street protesters crowded the streets of Thailand to demand political reforms, but soon after the government launched a violent crackdown on the protestors (killing dozens of people), the protests ended.

First results of the Investigations and Difficulties Encountered

From the above outcomes, it is difficult to predict the outcome of social media reforms. Therefore, it is equally difficult to predict the impact of social media on the actions of political leaders. However, the unpredictable response by political leaders towards social media movements surface from the above illustrations. Some leaders respond positively to these movements, while others violently oppose them.

This paper focuses on the impact of social media in the UAE political leadership by focusing on the impact of social media on the interaction between political leaders in the UAE and the electorate. Comparisons may however manifest through the analysis of how social media affect political leadership in other parts of the world. Nonetheless, as described in the research question below, the main emphasis for this study will be to evaluate the impact of social media on the political governance process in the UAE.

Main Research Question

How does the influence of social media manifest in the political governance of the UAE?

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Research Objectives

  • To investigate how online communication determines the way political leaders interact with the electorate in the UAE
  • To explore the impact of social media on introducing transparency in political leadership and governance in the UAE
  • To establish if political leaders in the UAE cement their support through social media
  • To find out the extent that which social media influences how politicians communicate with the public
  • To investigate if political accountability in the UAE increases through social media use
  • To determine how social media impact the political behaviour of leaders in the UAE
  • To explore the right balance of incorporating social media in UAE political processes

Hypothesis

The impact of social media in the UAE is significantly different from the impact of social media on the political leadership of other parts of the world. In the UAE, social media register a significant impact only in reducing the divide between the electorate and the ruling class, through increased interaction between the two parties. However, the impacts of social media in effecting regime change or starting political reforms remain scanty.

Preliminary Thesis Plan

The outline for this thesis is as below

  • Chapter One: Introduction
    • The Dialectics of the Internet
    • The Political Power of Social Media
    • The Perils of Internet Freedom
  • Chapter Two: Social Media and Theories of Communication
    • Introduction
    • Social Media Defined (Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Weblogs)
    • Theories of Communication
  • Chapter Three: The Role of Social Media in UAE politics
    • Social Media as a tool for political organisation
    • Social Media as an Alternative Press
    • How Social Media Generate Awareness
  • Chapter Four: Future of Social Media in UAE Politics
    • Scope of social media in influencing UAE future politics
    • Growing Impact of Social Media in the other Arab States and its influence on UAE politics
    • Impact of UAE Political Structure (authoritarianism) on the influence of Social media
  • Chapter Five: Conclusion

Importance of Study

Academic Importance

For a long time, people perceived social media as a platform for people who do not have any significant social interaction skills to interact with other people in the real world. However, with the rapid spread of social media, it is increasingly difficult to find people who do not use social media, at least once a day. Indeed, people have adopted social media as part of their everyday life, and just as technology has found significant meaning in human life, online communication derives significant meaning in human interaction. Today, the scope of social media in human interaction occurs at unprecedented levels. Indeed, almost all aspects of our social interactions (whether at political, social, or economic levels), are influenced by social media, somewhat. This expanded scope of social media has prompted many researchers to investigate the impact of social media on not only economic, social but also political levels.

Economically, researchers have investigated the impact of social media on business-customer relations by exploring how businesses can better transform their operations to reflect new consumer tastes and preferences. Socially, researchers have investigated the impact of social media on human interactions by exploring how online communication redefines traditional patterns of communication. Politically, people use social media to redefine the way citizens communicate with their governments, and how citizens can better articulate their grievances and concerns towards their governments. Indeed, recently, researchers have used social media to explain most revolts in the Middle East. The recently ended Middle East revolt is one such event that has recreated renewed interest regarding how social media ease democratic reforms.

Despite the growing interest of social media in political reforms, one area that many researchers have failed to explore is the impact of social media on the political leaders who drive these political reforms. Instead, most researchers have focused on evaluating the impact of social media on political institutions and movements. Therefore, there has been minimal interest regarding the impact of social media on political figureheads or personalities. Meanwhile, in most countries, these political leaders control political institutions and other structures of power. Indeed, it is difficult to ignore the varying personality and behavioral traits of political leaders. Therefore, this paper investigates the impact of social media on political leaders and their actions. The findings of this study, therefore, help to build the body of knowledge regarding social media and its impact on political leaders.

Professional Interest

As online communication continues to transform different political systems and ways of interaction, the importance of diplomacy and Intergovernmental relations continue to gain credence in today’s global society. Considering I am an employee of the Crown Prince Court, which represents the government of Abu Dhabi, I find it crucial to highlight the importance of understanding the role of social media in political leadership, because the Crown Prince Court supports the activities of His Highness General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who is the ruler of the Emirates. As a body given the mandate to support the private and public duties of General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, it is similarly crucial to understand how online communication simplifies the President’s duties. This may happen both locally and internationally because the government of Abu Dhabi mandates the Crown Prince’s Court to support the president’s local and international duties.

Therefore, through the understanding of the impact of social media on political leaders, the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince’s court can better understand how to improve the interaction/communication between the President and the citizens of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Through general correspondence, the Crown Prince Court may similarly understand how to gather information from the citizens and provide a customised solution to every concern identified.

In addition, since the Crown Prince Court helps to manage the private affairs of the Crown Prince, it would be interesting to understand how the court may improve its functions using social media. This initiative would also be instrumental in creating a stronger impact for the Crown Prince’s corporate and philanthropic initiatives on the citizens. To this extent, the understanding of social media and its impact on political leaders create significant professional interest.

Methodology

Research Design

The methodology for this report will mainly rely on the political discourse analysis method. This research methodology seeks to investigate the prevailing social systems, which lead to the creation of reality. The political analysis method stands out as a huge attraction for this paper because it encompasses the relevant societal domain, political systems, political values, political ideologies, political institutions, political organisations, political groups, political actors, and political relations.

These issues are pivotal to the understanding of the research question. The political discourse analysis method has widely been used in other political spheres, such as the identification of suitable policies for the creation of practical solutions to solve social problems. In practice, people have used the political discourse analysis method to understand political systems around the world. The discourse analysis method will therefore be useful in this study to describe how people talk about things, present them, and use them in their daily lives. Comprehensively, the discourse analysis method shows how these social constructs link to power relations. Through this analysis, it will be easy to understand how social constructs affect political leaders.

Data Collection

The main data collection method for this paper will be secondary research (case study approach). The main motivation for using the case study approach is its ability to provide an accurate understanding of the research problem by providing a background to the issues surrounding the research problem, and providing different insights regarding the use of social media in the political processes of other countries. Through this ability, it is also easy to see how secondary data provide the platform for comparing different views regarding the research topic. Besides these advantages, using secondary research is also a cheaper alternative to data collection. Furthermore, the use of secondary research saves time.

The secondary research source will provide a structured framework for the study because it defines the scope, depth, and breadth of the topic. Moreover, the use of secondary research will aid in providing a broader understanding of the research topic by incorporating other research dynamics that do not exist in the objectives of this paper. Peer-reviewed journals form the main sources of secondary information for this paper.

The above research sources will provide the groundwork for a meta-analysis, which will combine the findings from different data sources to form the framework for the research findings. Therefore, the meta-analysis will estimate the true “effect size” of the data collected from secondary research sources. Comprehensively, it will be easy to achieve a systematic review of the research problem by eliminating the less-precise effect size of the research information collected from the secondary research sources.

Data Analysis

The main data analysis technique incorporated in this study is the coding technique. As an interpretive tool, the coding technique will sort and evaluate the expansive information obtained from the secondary data analysis process. Indeed, since the diversity of the secondary data chosen will present diverse information regarding the research topic, the coding technique will aid in sorting out this information and categorising them into easily understandable data.

The coding technique works by assigning different codes to related pieces of information. Comprehensively, the coding technique will therefore work by assigning codes to related information, so that it is easier to analyse related literature, as opposed to having many confusing and dynamic information sources (which are difficult to comprehend). The coding technique will therefore be beneficial in providing a structured impression of the overall findings.

The member-check technique will similarly play a complementary role to the coding technique in evaluating the credibility, transferability, and accuracy of the information analysed from the coding technique. In detail, after the categorisation of data (into related subjects) by the coding technique, the member-check technique will ensure that the information sourced is factual. Indeed, the member check technique works by evaluating areas of disparities between the outcomes of the data analysis process and the initial sources of information. The member check technique will therefore ensure that the data analysis process reflects the opinions, ideas, context, and attitudes of the authors. The same process will also ensure that there are no significant disparities between the sources of data obtained and the overall outcomes of the data analysis process.

Literature Review

Public relation is the main profession informing the process of investigating the impact of social media on political leaders. Theoretically, this topic also underlines social networking as the main foundation describing the research topic. Indeed, there are several studies, which show how online communication affects electoral processes and political systems in today’s technological world. Recent research studies investigating the impact of social media on political systems focus on the ongoing Arab spring. Mostly, researchers understand the Arab uprising through the contribution of social media in mobilising people and aiding political reforms in Tunisia and Egypt. One paper that will be useful in this study is a study by Abdelhay (2012) titled, “The Arab uprising 2011: new media in the hands of a new generation in North Africa.”

This paper sought to draw the link between information and communications technology and the Egyptian and Tunisia political uprisings. The paper also sought to investigate further the new opportunities that online communication has brought to the Arab society, in terms of their ability to speak about social ills, public governance, and newer ways of improving their lives. Abdelhay (2012) therefore describes the relationship between today’s technologically savvy generation, new media and the potential political ramifications of this transformation of the political class and public governance.

A related report that concerns the Arab spring uprisings is traced to a research paper by Mansour (2012), which discusses the role of social media in aiding the country’s political reforms. The paper incorporated a study that investigated the views of a few Egyptians (sampled through the snowball technique) regarding their involvement in the Egyptian revolts (through social media). This paper is useful to this study because it explains the role of social media in influencing the actions, beliefs, and attitudes of the citizens towards their governments. Indeed, through the understanding of how social media influenced Egyptian political reforms, this paper draws significant comparisons regarding how social media may influence the actions of political leaders to quell such revolts, through democracy or violent crackdowns.

An article by Payton (2012) titled, “Social media and the blogosphere,” also provides a clear direction for this study because it highlights the way different audiences react to social media messages. However, Payton (2012) analyses the impact of social media on ethnic audiences by evaluating how online communication promotes social activism. Payton (2012) provides a significant understanding of how online communication affects political leaders because she shows how people react to social media and political activism, within this sphere. Therefore, through her discussion, it is easy to predict the outcome of social media on different audiences.

In an article titled, “The use of the internet by political parties and candidates in Scotland during the 2010 UK general election campaign,” Baxter (2011) discusses the use of social media, by politicians, to communicate their campaign messages to the electorate. As the title suggests, Baxter (2011) sought to investigate how political parties and political personalities used social media to design their campaigns in the 2010 UK elections. To achieve this objective, Baxter (2011) analysed 18 websites of different political parties, and the activities of 12 politicians, to understand how social media affected their political operations.

From his investigation, Baxter (2011) was able to establish the high level of social media adoption by UK politicians in the recently ended 2010 elections. His paper directly relates to the subject of this report because Baxter (2011) discusses the impact of social media on political leaders. Therefore, Baxter (2011) provides a tool for comparing the findings of this study to the evidence presented in his report.

Certainly, social media has quickly become a novel approach to political campaigns. Its impact manifests through the new interactive media that allows politicians to interact with the electorate. Many politicians are now resorting to creating a social media campaign alongside their conventional campaign infrastructure to interact with millions of people in the growing online community. The huge human traffic in social media (that seem to supersede the traffic of people in campaign websites) informs this strategy. However, the quick shift to social media as an interactive platform for politicians may have different outcomes, depending on the efficiency of the campaign and the communication strategy adopted by the politicians.

In the Middle East, observers see social media as less vibrant than developed democracies, especially because most Middle Eastern governments curtail the use of social media for political purposes. However, among most Middle East nations, social media use in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) poses a different dynamic. In the UAE, social media has played an instrumental role in bridging the governance gap that exists between politicians and the electorate.

A study conducted by Communications Consultancy Portland to evaluate the most connected “Twitter” politicians in the Middle East ranked UAE’s Sultan Al Qassemi (a writer and commentator) as the most connected tweeter personality in the region (Bronstein 2013). Politicians followed his online presence because Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid (vice president and ruler of the UAE) and Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed (Foreign affairs minister) also made the list as some of the most connected tweeter users in the region (Bronstein 2013).

The influence of social media in the UAE greatly differs from the influence of social media in more established democracies because politicians in the UAE are more distant from their subjects. In fact, according to Bronstein (2013), social media provide an opportunity for politicians to interact with the electorate because most people in the UAE do not get to see their leaders every day. Therefore, social media helps the electorate to fill the gap that exists between them and their leaders.

In most established democracies like America, politicians stress the role of social media in defining their political careers. For example, in the recently ended American election of 2012, the two main protagonists, President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney nearly doubled the amount of money they used in digital advertising from about $25 million (in 2008) to about $52 million (in 2012). According to Bronstein (2013), the number of money democrats spent on republicans almost doubled (compared to 2008). Most of the increment came from increased investments in online advertising and the development of social media streams.

President Obama re-launched his presidential bid in 2012 via Twitter. Bronstein (2013) says Obama’s “tweet” topped their list of the most amplified messages in their online network. This reaction was a culminating moment for many online enthusiasts because it reaffirmed the loud and sometimes deafening presence of social networking on political activities. Both Obama and his main challenger Mitt Romney boasted high Facebook numbers that stretched into tens of millions of followers. Nonetheless, what remains unclear amid the growing appreciation for social media among politicians is how much the growing online activities reflect in the overall election outcome.

Political leaders in the UAE do not however boast of the same high number of social media followers but their use of social media to advance their political influence should not be undermined either. Most active politicians in the Middle East who engage in social media communication mainly hail from Egypt. For example, the top 50 most active politicians in social media come from Egypt (Bronstein 2013). However, since the UAE political system is undemocratic, there is little use of social media to introduce regime change. The main role of social media in political governance, therefore, focuses on improving the interaction between politicians and the electorate. Other uses of social media focus on economic and social activities.

Türke (2006) explores the extent that which information communications technology has changed how people interact within different political structures. He acknowledges that today’s political structures are greatly complex and dynamic. However, he says social media has presented new opportunities for interaction, which were hitherto unknown (Türke 2006). Therefore, Türke (2006) explores how varying social and political dynamics harmonise to present a new model of interaction between politicians and their supporters. To this extent, Türke (2006) contributes to this research process by explaining how online communication redefines how political leaders (and their followers) interact today (using social media). This way, it is easier to understand how online communication redefines and reshapes political interactions and governance structures.

A related research paper that closely resembles the analogy by Türke (2006) is a research paper by Gadekar (2011) titled, “Web sites for e electioneering in Maharashtra and Gujarat, India.” This paper sought to understand how different political leaders (and political parties in India) used social media to communicate their political messages in the 2009 Indian elections. This paper investigated more than 30 websites run by political parties, and political leaders, to investigate how they used this online platform to mobilise support for their political objectives.

The studies occurred in two Indian states, Maharashtra and Gujarat. Gadekar (2011) provides a significant contribution to this study because he broadly explains how politicians have used social media, in the past, to advance their political agendas. More specifically, Gadekar (2011) uses a different environment (India) to investigate how online communication works in other social environments. This way, it is easy to compare how political leaders use social media to undertake their political activities in developing and developed nations.

Through a research paper titled, “The use of the Internet in the British European Parliament Election, 2009,” Jackson and Lilleker (2010) investigate the impact of Web 2.0 applications in Europe’s political processes. Mainly, both authors sought to understand how the online platform improved the interaction between political leaders and their followers. The research paper focused on understanding the political intrigues of the 2009 European parliamentary elections by evaluating the web contents of different political leaders, plus how such online tools changed their interaction with their supporters. Jackson and Lilleker (2010) also provide insightful analysis into how political leaders use social media to interact with their supporters.

Therefore, like Gadekar (2011), it is simpler to understand how Jackson and Lilleker (2010) show the use of social media in advancing political agendas. This analysis also shows how such an insight will explain how political leaders change their strategies by adopting social media as a political tool. Comprehensively, these studies are beneficial to the understanding of how social media affect political leaders.

References

Abdelhay, N 2012, ‘The Arab uprising 2011: new media in the hands of a new generation in North Africa’, Aslib Proceedings, vol. 64 no. 5, pp. 529 – 539.

Baxter, G 2011, ‘The use of the internet by political parties and candidates in.

Bronstein, J 2013, ‘Like me!: Analyzing the 2012 presidential candidates’ Facebook pages’, Online Information Review, vol. 37 no. 2, pp. 161-131.

Scotland during the 2010 UK general election campaign’, Aslib Proceedings, vol. 63 no. 5, pp. 464 – 483.

Gadekar, R 2011, ‘Web sites for e-electioneering in Maharashtra and Gujarat, India’, Internet Research, vol. 21 no. 4, pp. 435 – 457.

Jackson, N & Lilleker, D 2010, ‘Tentative steps towards interaction: The use of the Internet in the British European Parliament Election 2009’, Internet Research, vol. 20 no. 5, pp. 527 – 544.

Mansour, E 2012, ‘The role of social networking sites (SNSs) in the January 25th Revolution in Egypt’, Library Review, vol. 61 no. 2, pp. 128 – 159.

Payton, F 2012, ‘Considering the political roles of Black talk radio and the Afrosphere in response to the Jena 6: Social media and the blogosphere’, Information Technology & People, vol. 25 no. 1, pp. 81 – 102.

Türke, R 2006, ‘Towards productive and sustainable forms of interaction in governance’, Kybernetes, vol. 35 no. 1, pp. 164 – 181.

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