While social media can be a great tool for politicians to publicize their policy agenda and candidacies, it can also be very destructive to reputations and make people look foolish.
Notably, former Congressman Anthony Weiner (a one-time potential NYC mayoral hopeful) was disgraced when his inappropriate social media interactions with women were brought to light. He quickly denied such inappropriate actions, then immediately had to accept blame for his indiscretions. His career quickly spiraled out of control.
As a result of several career-ending social media gaffes, most elected officials (particularly national officials) have communication and social media directors managing their social media profiles to mitigate and minimize any potential damage that could be done by an elected official thoughtlessly and carelessly posting something insensitive or incriminating. Even so, such gaffes still occur.
Having a public social media presence can be a blessing or a curse for elected officials, depending on their familiarity and prudence with the social media platform.
In the last few years, we have seen a tremendous increase in the use of social media in political campaigns. From the President of USA Barack Obama to the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, many big leaders are turning towards social media to increase their presence among the people of their respective country. But social media is a dual-edged sword. While providing the largest possible audience in the least cost, social media also has its cons. The reasons for politicians to avoid creating public profiles on social media are listed below:
1. Impact of mistakes: Politicians have a great influence over the general public. Every word they say needs to be well planned earlier. But a 'politically' incorrect statement from a politician is not uncommon. Sentiments of the people are often hurt due to unplanned speeches. In theory, both print and social media would have similar effects if a politician says something which they should have avoided. But in reality, the print and television media can be controlled by individuals. Hence a mistake can be sidelined. Social media, on the other hand, is completely free-flowing. Unless the website is completely banned, there is almost no way to stop the flow of information on a particular website.
2. Invisible audience: Politicians sometimes use social media to interact with the public and know about their problems. But as the people on social media are apparently invisible under profiles that can be genuine as well as fake, the interactions on social media sometimes turn cumbersome for the politician and their team. There are authentic grievances as well as off-topic comments. Thus the politician or his/her team has to go through all of the comments to find out the genuine ones.
3. Risk of hacking: A public profile on any social media is under the risk of being hacked. Not only can hackers gain important information about the politicians as his/her associates, but they can also gain momentary control over the aforementioned profile and and post comments that can cause public panic.
4. People prefer face-to-face interactions: A social media profile does have its advantages, but people prefer face-to-face interactions to mere 'tweets' and 'status updates'. An online video cannot compensate for a public speech. Over-dependence on social media can backfire and cause a decline in reputation. Presence on social media is important, but active physical participation in daily affairs is obligatory for success in politics.
Thus, social media for politicians is a powerful but dangerous tool which must be used responsibly.