Social media is forcing politicians to run relentless selfie campaigns


Katleen Gabriels is a moral philosopher specializing in computer ethics at Maastricht University. She conducts research on the relationship between morality and computer technologies.

Anyone who looks at politicians’ Facebook pages is usually not sure whether they ended up on the page of a seasoned influencer or that of a real politician. This ambiguity stems from the endless stream of selfies and other photos of the politician in question. All this for the pleasure of likes and for the podium it presents.

Political marketing has undergone a major transformation in recent years. Social media has pushed politicians into constant campaign mode. The image and the personal brand are put on a pedestal. In the past, their faces were seen only on a limited scale during election periods or in mainstream media. Whereas today, they are constantly visible online. Firms are spending more and more money on communication consultants who then closely monitor the reputation and image of politicians. As became clear in June with the commotion around the documentary on Sigrid Kaag (D66 deputy). The D66 campaign team even asked to manipulate footage in which Kaag was not wearing a seat belt. Documentary filmmakers did not respond to this request.


“For vision you should go to the ophthalmologist,” Mark Rutte said a few years ago, echoing former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. The political vision for politicians is limited to their own mandate. The emphasis is on scoring points quickly. This has even been done to the detriment of public health in recent months, when outgoing Rutte cabinet rushed to relax corona measures without waiting for expert advice.

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Another way to score points quickly is to rely on expensive campaigns. These look flashy and give the impression that the problem is being treated. The lion’s share, however, immediately disappears from our collective memory and has no lasting effect. Quite simply because no structural measures are taken. Yet, at the launch of each campaign, the politicians themselves are only briefly in the news. Including mandatory photos for social networks. And so they use campaigns, paid for with taxpayer dollars, to campaign for themselves.

The form on the bottom

Political parties spend a lot of money on online campaigns. Unfortunately, citizens cannot simply trust the accuracy of this information. For example, at the end of 2018, the Flemish political party N-VA funded a Facebook campaign on the United Nations migration pact. A fact check by the Flemish newspaper De Morgen showed that no less than five of the six slogans disseminated by the N-VA via Facebook were false. False news disseminated by politicians and paid for by the Flemish citizen, because the parties there are financed with taxpayers’ money.

The stakes are staggering. Substance loses form, long term short term and correct information in the face of slogans and sometimes even outright fake news. And in all of this, a lot of money goes down the drain. So if they’re that concerned about their reputation, here’s a little tip: If you want to be remembered for a long time, focus on the long term.

About this column

In weekly column, written alternately by Eveline van Zeeland, Eugene Franken, Helen Kardan, katleen gabriel, Carina Weijma, Bernd Maier-Leppla and Colinda de Beer, Innovation Origins is trying to find out what the future will look like. These columnists, sometimes supplemented by guest bloggers, all work in their own way on solutions to the problems of our time. So that tomorrow is good. Here are all the previous articles.

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