6.4.2 Political Communication with the Public
Political communication with the public enables politicians and people to put pressure on each other; the Internet has speeded this up.
People can communicate directly with politicians, to ask for favours or changes in policy. Politicians respond by finding ways of trying to please people, because they want the support of the population – which may take the form of votes in a democracy (6.3.2) or tacit acceptance in an authoritarian system (220.127.116.11). The need for support is a form of pressure on the politicians, sometimes leading to dishonest manoeuvrings.
A government’s stability partly depends upon how it manages its continuous communication with the population. Controlling the narrative is very important. A topical example of this is the way in which President Putin exploited the fears and resentments of the Russian people, as described in the article Putin and the psychology of grievance:
“For years, he’s spun a narrative of humiliation at the hands of the West. …As Sam Freedman notes, this was the backdrop to his sudden occupation of Crimea in 2014, when his lagging popularity levels suddenly shot up to their highest ever levels amid “the first substantive national ‘victory’ in the lifetime of most Russians”.”
It was easy to blame the West and liberal democracy for the economic problems that Russia faced during the Yeltsin years in the 1990s, and to frame the expansion of NATO as a security threat and a betrayal.
Direct political communication with the public has always been possible, but Internet social media have now transformed the ways in which people communicate: the public and the politicians can now broadcast their views to directly influence each other, the communication is almost instantaneous and stories can spread very rapidly (whether they are true or false), and the use of brief messages increases the risk of carelessly using broad labels – such as ‘conservative’ – to oversimplify complex subjects (2.2).
Artificial intelligence (AI), which enables computers to generate information that looks similar to human work, was referred to earlier in the context of its economic impact (18.104.22.168). It can also be used to create and spread fake news. It has the potential to create sophisticated harmful content, but it may also provide the tools with which that can be detected and removed. The BBC article previously referred to drew attention to some political concerns:
“In June , the EU’s tech chief Margrethe Vestager told the BBC that AI’s potential to amplify bias or discrimination was a more pressing concern than futuristic fears about an AI takeover. ..In the EU, the Artificial Intelligence Act, when it becomes law, will impose strict controls on high risk systems.”
“US President Joe Biden has also announced measures to deal with a range of problems that AI might cause. He vowed to “harness the power of AI while keeping Americans safe”.”
The following sub-sections describe different aspects of political communication with the public, not all of which directly involve politicians or use the Internet:
● People can communicate directly to politicians, as individuals or in collective demonstrations of concern (22.214.171.124), although there may be issues that constrain their ability to do so, as discussed later in this chapter (6.8.3).
● Politicians might try to win easy popularity by announcing policies that are irresponsible (126.96.36.199).
● They can be tempted to tell lies, use misleading statistics and exaggerate to make arguments that suit them when trying to gain public support (188.8.131.52).
● They can also use well-documented propaganda techniques to manipulate public opinion (184.108.40.206).
● Politicians often compete for popularity by criticising each other (220.127.116.11), although they reduce each other’s legitimacy and undermine public confidence by doing so.
● Many people now get their news directly on Internet social media, bypassing newspapers and television (18.104.22.168). The sources cannot be held to account and there has been an increase in ‘fake news’. Algorithms only feed people the information that reinforces their existing beliefs: an ‘echo chamber’ effect that is deeply polarising.
● Internet ‘echo chambers’ help conspiracy theories to flourish (22.214.171.124). They offer people a comforting alternative picture of reality and politicians can foster such narratives to demonise opponents.
● Distortions and the potential for harm from Internet social media have led to calls for its regulation, although censorship is problematic (126.96.36.199).
The above forms of political communication with the public are unsolicited. Formal consultation processes, which are initiated by politicians to help form policy on specific issues, are described later (6.5.3).