In most of the inhabited land, before the 12th Century A.D, political power resided with the King/Monarch. Power was exerted through local feudals, and collection of taxes each year. In 1215 A.D, the Magna Carta was signed by the King of England, giving away some of those powers to the aristocracy. This initiative was replicated in Europe till the 18th Century.
The American Revolution of 1775 and the French Revolution of 1789 were products of this period of enlightenment (of Europe mostly) in modern history known as the ‘Renaissance’. As a result of these revolutions and the wars preceding them, political power was transferred to the representatives of the people, i.e. the system of parliamentary democracy. After the demise of imperialism (or at least the ‘older/traditional’ form of it) in the 20th Century, democracy has been the preferred political system in most countries around the world.
There is a new kid on the block though. In 2007, the US Presidential campaign for Barack Obama utilised and benefitted tremendously from the massive number of people using social media outlets such as MySpace, Facebook and Twitter. Obama’s presidential campaign raised a record-breaking $745 million. Apart from charisma and prowess in public speaking, Barack Obama and his campaign reaped the reward for engaging people on social media. The following graph demonstrates a clear contrast in the policies of the two contestants (McCain and Obama) during the presidential elections.
According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 60 per cent of Internet users went online for news about politics or campaigns in the 2008 election.
In the book, “Communicator-In-Chief: How Barack Obama used new media technology to win the White House”, the authors mention that, “approximately 2.4 Million people ‘friended’ Obama on Facebook. Approximately four hundred thousand Facebook friends were gained by Obama in the last two weeks of the campaign. McCain ended with 6,20,000 Friends on Facebook. The Obama campaign spent $643000 of his $16 Million Internet budget to advertise on Facebook.
The Obama campaign did not focus exclusively on Facebook and MySpace; they maintained profiles on 15 different social networking sites, and even created their own social network on Obama’s website, Barackobama.com. On that website, over two million profiles were created, two hundred thousand offline events were planned, four hundred thousand blog posts were written, four hundred thousand pro-Obama videos were posted on YouTube through the site and thirty five thousand volunteer groups were created.” (pages 57,58).
Eric E. Otenyo mentioned a new and unique method of reaching out to potential voters. In his essay, “Game ON: Games and Obama’s Race to the White House” he wrote, “Obama’s presidential campaign became the first to apply the immense potential of advertising in the gaming world, interfaced through the Internet to engage a large section of potential and previously untapped voters”
Obama, though, wasn’t the first US based politician to harness the power of the Internet and social media. In 1998, for example, Jesse Ventura, a former professional wrestler, known as “The Body” had harnessed technology to mobilise supporters via the Internet to win the gubernatorial election in Minnesota.
Likewise, Governor Howard Dean in 2000, and Senator John Kerry in 2004, were also highly successful in recruiting hundreds of campaign volunteers through the Internet media.
The Obama campaign was the first of many International events that have been shaped by social media and its users.
It was another presidential election, albeit in another part of the world, that highlighted the increasing role of social media. It was in the aftermath of the Iranian presidential election of 2009 that the ‘Green Movement’ started. It was started by young supporters of the losing candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi. The colour green was used as the symbol of Mir Hossein Mousavi's campaign, but after the elections it became a symbol of unity and hope for those asking for annulment of what they regarded as a fraudulent election. The Washington Post and Al-Jazeera English called it the biggest protest in Iran after the 1979 Revolution. The movement gained worldwide sympathy after 26-year-old Neda Agha Soltan was shot during a protest, her death was live-tweeted and picked up by media around the world. She became the symbol of the movement after her tragic death.