Internet Politics

For my Final Major Project, I chose to use the party leaders for the 2015 election as my subjects. The reasoning behind this was the fact it takes a key moment in time and represents it photographically, fixing my work to a specific time period. The party leaders themselves are a good example of mediation in communication and representation with each politician having a team dedicated to make sure they have the best possible impression on the public. My binary images offer a new way of seeing the party leaders and a new form of information from them, it is then up to the viewer to decide whether this is a true representation of that person, which becomes harder when the only other representation they know has been so carefully constructed. However the choice of choosing the party politicians as my subjects was also based on the increasing amount of political discussion and communication in online spaces; where the online disinhibition effect dictates, behaviour has the capacity to be extremely positive, or aggressive. Such a an unpredictable, volatile environment wouldn’t appear to be the place to discuss the future of the country and the election who decides who will run it, however the subject of politics has been increasing rapidly in online spaces and with it, certain characteristics of the modern day Internet culture.

The conservative leader and now politician David Cameron tweeted a picture of himself and Barack Obama when discussing the crisis in Ukraine in 2014 and was consequently criticised. The ‘selfie’ is perhaps the most widely known and practised phenomenon of the digital age with individuals like Kim Kardashian building and maintaining their popularity through selfies on social media such as Instagram. The selfie was perhaps first widely seen in politics with the Danish Prime Minister taking a picture of herself, David Cameron and Barack Obama at the funeral of Nelson. Although this was predominately criticised for being disrespectful to the late Nelson Mandela, further selfies like this from politicians could be seen as attempts to make the practice of politics less formal, perhaps more accessible to the younger generation. Following this event it was later discussed that Cameron had ‘bought’ himself more likes for his Facebook profile, a action usually carried out by people who have the sole fame of becoming famous on social media. The serious undertone to this humorous story poses the very real concept of bribing and buying votes, a practice which is considered to electoral fraud. Although the act of buying popularity is confined to social media, there is still a risk that individuals unfamiliar with politics will judge the validity of a party’s campaign entirely on their social media popularity.

In 2015 Conservative member Grant Schapps was accused of making changes to the Wikipedia page of himself and other Conservative Members, a claim which he denied. However it was revealed that he had in fact changed his Wikipedia page previously in 2012, attempting to remove facts and comments. It is highly likely that Wikipedia, a crowd sourced database of information, could have the capacity to get certain facts about famous individuals wrong, with some celebrities claiming that their birthday on the site is incorrect. However the ability for anyone to change the information, leaves Wikipedia vulnerable to both the process of mediation and the less subtle process of hacking. The hacking, although it can be reported and removed, can still create a false impression through the attention it inspires, leaving some people with the wrong information if they hear it out of context. The tampering allegedly carried out by Grant Schapps however would indicate that he was trying to tailor his own page and the page of his associates to create a good impression of the Conservative Party as a whole. Though whilst Wikipedia may not be the main source of information regarding politics, it is a site frequented by a large volume of Internet users, demonstrating that Grant Schapps and the Conservative Party are not adverse to the concept of mediation and manipulation to gain a positive public interest.

Aside from selfies, there has been the emergence of another popular Internet phenomenon: the meme. Political memes have been increasingly created to accompany the election and the various activities within it, such as the leaders debate. It isn’t just the public who have been engaging in this activity, the Liberal Democrats created a set of memes to try and gain awareness and popularity for their campaign by Photoshopping the party leaders to reference the popular T.V series ‘Game of Thrones’, casting their own leader Nick Clegg as one of the positively received characters, Jon Snow. David Cameron is cast as the boy King, born to inherit the throne, however there is a aspect of slander behind this casting as the character Joffery, whom David Cameron has been matched with, was a product of incest. These memes, widely criticised for the poor choice of photographs were part of a wave of new memes, one of which ridiculed the Nick Clegg for his subordinate position in the five year coalition, likening him to Sandy from Grease singing her number ‘Hopelessly Devoted To You’. These pictures, whilst comical, make it evident that politics is rarely treated with respect on the Internet, with individuals voicing their opinions on each party at every opportunity.

Although freedom of speech is an aspect only brought about by this democratic rule, it appears to increasingly target individuals such as politicians in a manner of disrespect. The Internet may appear to be engaging more individuals, particularly in the younger generation, however the affect of the Internet on the psychology of representation and communication could lead to a distortion and corruption on the activities that take place from both politicians and the public. The mediation of communication and representation developing on the Internet could encourage a future age where the individual has to break away from the digital to try and interpret the physical again. For now however, whilst politics may be on the increase, it seems very fitting that that actual voting process itself remains a physical paper-based practice, apparently resistance to manipulation, mediation or hacking.




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