1447, Guttenberg invented printing. 2004, Zuckerberg invented Facebook. And we can’t tell yet which one left the deepest mark in the history… Facebook is everywhere, gets involved in everything and apparently, is even capable to influence our political decisions. This year’s Swiss federal elections proved it: even our most conservative politicians don’t reject new media when they want to gain electors.
In 2008 we called it the “Obama effect”. It was said that the American president’s ability to deal with social medias played a role in his victory. Therefore, the Swiss newspapers predicted that Facebook would play a huge part in the results of the next elections. They guessed right: last summer we saw our politicians add a large number of virtual friendships to their Facebook accounts. Christian Levrat, the president of the Socialist Party, was the first French-speaking politician to reach the limit of 5’000 friends… before he turned his account into a Fan Page. Oskar Freysinger’s webmaster did a good job too: he gathered 5’000 people in three weeks. Of course, they are not very selective in this “friend-collecting” game. On some lists we can find commercial firms, or young girls in sexy outfits -who sometimes don’t even live in the country…
What do they have to gain? Well, let’s face it, not a lot of seniors use social media. Online, politicians get the attention of this new generation who’d rather read Facebook updates than “Le Temps”. Micheline Calmy-Rey, the first Federal Councilor to open a Fan Page, did it partly to connect with younger citizens. Levrat even said that it’s a good professional tool that enables us to be in touch with other members of the party and mobilize people. That’s true: Facebook offers many possibilities of interaction. With a simple mouse click, people who can’t dedicate a lot of time to politics can deliver a message to their favorite or least favorite candidate. It’s more spontaneous and quicker than sending a letter. And costless! On Christoph Blocher’s Facebook Page, for example, people often express their disagreement by writing on his wall.
Some politicians that are geekier than others based everything on the Web 2.0: Barbara Schmid-Federer, National councilor in Zürich (PDC), regularly updates her website. But that’s not all: Xing, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube… she seems to have an account in every social network on the web? We can poke her on Facebook and skype her! A political scientist proved that she owes her victory entirely to her “geek-attitude”. Isn’t that stretching it a bit? Well, not so much, according to a study on the subject: Ciaran McMahon, lecturer in psychology at theDublinBusinessSchool, proved with statistics that the average number of votes for a candidate with a Facebook account was about twice superior than for a candidate without one. This research, based on the 2011 elections inIreland, concluded that social networking will play an increasingly major role in future elections.
This seems more relevant when it’s about local politics. For instance, in theUS, Facebook helped local politicians to be recognized on the street. This could also be the case inSwitzerland, where the Parliament members are regular people who don’t travel in a limo. Lots of citizen can’t even name our seven Federal councilors… Is Facebook helping? Maybe.
And to conclude, here is an interesting fact: very few candidates publish concrete ideas or plans on Facebook. 63% of the National Council’s candidates answered to the Smartvote.ch questionnaire, which presents opinions with concrete and short questions. But their answers rarely appear on their profile. Some candidates, like Ueli Leuenberger, said he didn’t trust Smarvote because the answers can be wrongly interpreted… In other words, you can’t stonewall. The website gives facts instead of nice hypocritical speeches. And on Facebook, it’s rather the contrary: pretty pictures, messages of support and a lot of “Yes we can!”. In brief… politics!