As the ITV leader’s debate aired on Tuesday night, the Conservative Party came under fire for rebranding their Press Office Twitter account as a fact-checking service, changing their display name from ‘CCHQ Press’ to ‘factcheckUK’, alongside a new profile picture, header, and bio.
In response to the outpouring of anger from the public, MPs from other parties and journalists, and accusations of attempting to mislead the public, Dominic Raab appeared on BBC Breakfast on Wednesday morning, defending the move, stating that ‘no one gives a toss about the social media cut and thrust’. In a further defence of the CCHQ move, Nicky Morgan, appearing on ‘Peston’ last night, argued that it was a ‘total Westminster bubble story’ and that real people ‘on the doorstep’ don’t care what is posted on social media.
But these remarks aren’t exactly true: many people, particularly young voters, take notice of and care what is posted on social media. In fact, the success of the Labour Party’s 2017 election campaign was thought to be down to a well-thought-out online movement. Even the Conservative Party, this time around, are taking the fight online through the posting of ‘personal’ videos with Boris Johnson and, perhaps more infamously, their Comic Sans ‘Get Brexit Done’ post which certainly caught the attention of Twitter, leading ‘Comic Sans’ to trend.
So, despite what Raab and Morgan have said, it goes to show that the Conservatives do, in fact, know the importance of social media, particularly when it comes to campaigning. If there’s one thing that politicians are desperate to acquire presently, it is young or first-time voters. By looking again at the 2017 election campaign run by Labour, it becomes clear that they appealed to young voters through their use of social media – through the videos posted discussing party policies, campaign support groups, such as Momentum, posting memes and viral videos (their most famous titled ‘Daddy, Why Do You Hate Me?’ got seven million views) and the videos of rallies that were only attended by a couple of thousand people suddenly reached an audience of millions. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Labour’s 2017 campaign was their instructional advertisements plastered all over Facebook and Twitter, telling people how to register to vote with reminders of the cut-off date for registration. Labour’s targeting of young people led to, what the media termed, a ‘youthquake’ – the youth were the ones who managed to swing the vote away from a Conservative majority.
Why, then, do the Conservative Party feel the need to pretend that the social media world is not a battleground for campaigning? If there is one thing that the Conservatives need to ensure their victory, it is the trust and votes of young people, and the best way to bring young people into the fold is to appeal to them. One thing is for sure, though: since the 2017 election, it would be a huge mistake to underestimate the power of a striking social media presence.