The inconvenient truth about social media and #ep2014

The inconvenient truth is simple: Social media will have zero impact on the outcome of the European Parliament elections 2014. Here are 10 simple truths about social media and the #ep2014*:

1. Social media will only help a few MEPs that have already invested heavily  in their individual social media presences. Using social media  during campaigns may look good – but only a long term commitment can deliver sustainable results. It’s simple:  be authentic, build relationships and engage your audience. But: Using social media in a bad way is worse than not using it at all. Think about it!

2.  We live in an echo chamber – the bubble is talking to itself. Nobody listens to voices with a different opinion. You only follow stuff you already like. Result: Social media is not a helpful tool for complex political debates. Welcome to the filter bubble!

3. 75 % of Europeans still get their political information on Europe from TV. “The Internet” is  only the 4th most important resource for political information – and the preferred information sources on the internet are “information websites” – not social media.

4. Social media does not reach people who are already disengaged from politics. And even if there is more engagement it does not translate into a higher voter turnout. Statistically, young people are more engaged on social media but their interest / engagement in the political process is  falling – both  at the national and European level. Suggesting that social media will boost the turnout of young voters may be a false correlation.

5. The social media/digital divide: 41 % of Europeans have never used social media.

6. Twitter can reach journalists and opinion-makers. If used properly one  can use it for multiplier effects. To use Facebook effectively you will  need a proper budget to game their algorithm.

7. Data mining may not be working in Europe: Europeans have a different conception of privacy – and  there is no fundraising angle (unlike in the US). Just ask yourself one simple question: Would you send a (party) political messages to a friend on Facebook?

8.  Social media tends to punish moderate voices and makes it hard to structure political debates.  European politics is all about finding a compromise – not a strength of social media debates. But this is  also the reason why radical voices and populists embraced social media and are generally more successful using it – compared to traditional parties.

9. Is social media a tool to bypass traditional media channels? No! Early adopters and new media organizations will be the new gatekeepers.

10. #ep2014 campaigns will have a strong national angle.  The use of social media is very different across Europe so we will not see a clear picture of its impact.

* Those were my talking points for a TV talk show a few days ago. This also explains the  lack of context / nuances in the blog post – and is the reason why it is written like a tabloid story.


  1. Definitely some food for thought with this piece. I agree with your advice for officials to be authentic on social media. I’ve analyzed how my representatives use it here in the US, and it’s about as canned as one can get. Nothing they say inspires me to take action.

    Second, if European candidates are not using social media for fundraising, consider yourselves lucky. Representatives rarely engage with followers via social media here, but when it comes time for fundraising, all of sudden we’re bombarded with tweets and posts to donate to the campaign. It will be interesting to see if anything changes in the wake of the recent Supreme Court ruling.

    Third, I don’t know if one can say that “Nobody listens to voices with a different opinion.” I’m sure there are others out there (like me) who follow representatives and parties from both sides of the aisle. If European politics is all about finding a compromise, then why wouldn’t one follow a variety of voices?

    Finally, if the younger people who use social media are not interested/engaged, then perhaps we should find out why. What is it about the political process that turns them away? How could politicians and parties use social media to get people interested again?

  2. still smiling thinking oh all those gurus back in 2008 saying Facebook was more influential than TV in campaigning

  3. I enjoyed reading your post (and the paper by Rachel Gibson et al that you linked to). But don’t you think the title “inconvenient truth …” is a bit misleading?

    We will only be able to make a serious effort to understand how much or little social media has influenced the European elections after the event. The most we can do for the moment is to define expectations and see what data and research methods would allow us to test these.

    • Thanks. Yes, it is all about expectation management. I went to several events and debates over the last couple of weeks and I got the feeling that too many people believe that social media will totally transform the election campaign and that we will see the first twitter election etc. So the idea was to write a slightly provocative piece as a response and highlight a few problems. I am actually not that pessimistic about the potential of social media but I think that we should not overestimate the role it plays. The title – well yes, don’t take it too seriously. It is indeed a bit tabloidy 😉

  4. Hi Kosmo,
    It’s great to see bloggers feeding the debate. I had quite a few comments so I preferred putting them up in a blogpost

    Keep up the good work.



  5. Social media is about how you use it and who it is that uses it. There is a tendency to have a filter bubble around journalists and politicians that most rarely venture outside of. These politicians mainly use social media either as a multiplier effect or instead of having a blog or website that is more than an online business card. I am very curious to see what effect my own use of social media and web will have on my campaign, which has perhaps not been as successful as other candidates in more traditional areas but has had strong use of social media in continuation with my use of social media as a private person and as a diplomat before I went on leave for the campaign.

    My guess is that social media on its own will not be enough and that most people are reluctant to share their party political views with their (real life) friends on Facebook or other social media.

    • As voter , you feel more in touch/connected in comparasion with TV when one is linked/connected with a candidate.

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