At this point, we really do not know for certain how social media will influence politics and elections in this century. We can make some guesses, but we have not yet had very many elections during the era of social media, which means that we lack data to make firm conclusions. Moreover, it is very difficult to separate out the impact of social media from all the other factors that help to determine how people vote in elections.
It seems likely that social media will help politics and elections become more personalized. The era of big data and the internet has already pushed us a long way down this road, but social media can help move us even further. Politicians try very hard to do what is called “narrowcasting.” They try to tailor specific messages to specific people. These messages are, they believe, the messages that will be most likely to convince those particular people. Social media can help with this process. Campaigns can mine people’s social media pages for information about what sorts of things those people like and dislike. They can compare these profiles to information they already have, which allows them to make educated guesses about what sorts of appeals will work with each individual person. They can contact those people directly through social media. Alternatively, the can see if any of those people’s social media contacts are already supporting their candidate and they can use that information to help reach out to these potential voters.
Social media might also help broaden the electorate and bring in more young people in particular. Younger people have historically been much less likely to vote than older people. Social media might be able to help lure these younger people to participate in elections. Younger people might be more responsive when campaigns use social media because social media is a newer form of communication and one that younger people are more used to using. Young people might tune out communications that come through old-fashioned means while being more receptive to social media.
These are some potential ways in which social media might affect elections and politics in the 21st century (or at least in this part of it). However, we have very little data about how social media affects these things and we do not even know how important social media will continue to be as we go forward in time.