By Viviana P. González Vargas - International Relations student
Richard Stallman, who is a recognized programmer and activist once said “Facebook is not your friend. It is a surveillance engine”, and I couldn’t agree more. Social media (not only Facebook) has changed the way we work as a society. The influence it has on our behavior and opinions is incredible, especially when we think that these platforms create a profile of our likes and dislikes. And, who are people who would obviously try to use this enormous influence to their advantage? Of course, politicians. When you read that last sentence, your mind probably thought of an obvious international example, but Costa Rica is not exempt from this. Social media had a huge role on past elections in our country, but, why did social media become so important?
First of all, the massive reach of social media has no comparison from any other way of advertising a candidate. A video can have thousands of views in minutes, and it could start trending in less than a day. So, of course politicians believe that the best way of showing who they are is through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, mainly. Second, social networks are useful when it comes to understanding voters better, because comments can say a lot about what a candidate should focus on or include in their plans and speeches. Also, like Mora (2018) mentioned, the online world “promotes the mobilization of voters and segments of the population previously discouraged and disinterested in politics”, so candidates can gain more voters thanks to a single post that was convincing enough to someone. Third, social media is not only important to political candidates, but also to journalists. In our country, journalists have more power than we think, as they are free to choose who they support or disapprove in opinion articles, even if they don’t do it in an obvious way, and whether we notice it or not, an article can put into perspective certain aspects or reaffirm what we already believed. An obvious example of this is what happened on our last election, when memes, videos and articles from Fabricio Alvarado went viral.
I need to clarify that this doesn’t mean that social media are the only ways of reaching to our country, but mass events or public speeches are becoming less popular, and voters would rather read a summary online. Also, some may argue that social media is only reaching younger generations but, as Nagler (2020) states, the older generations are “aging out of the electorate system” and younger generations, on the other hand, are becoming a “bigger presence” on national elections. So, the fact that social media is being increasingly used makes sense when we put into perspective that younger people in our country are one of the populations that have contributed the most to abstentionism, so political parties need to persuade young voters into exercising this right.
As a conclusion, it’s important to admit that social media has a huge role on our country, and that aspect won’t change. Technology has become really important in our day to day, and it’s obvious that governments need to use it as a tool to promote a more politically educated civilization. We tend to think that platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat are only for entertainment, but states also have a huge role on them nowadays, and with fair reason, because our own countries political system should concern us. The influence they have on elections is a big deal, but we’re the ones who have the most influence on them when we apply an informed vote. So, we need to start thinking of them as a way to get to know who the face of our nation will be.