I know what some of you are thinking after reading the title… they already are. I will concede that there are similarities in how celebrities/companies approach social media and how politicians do. Namely, they both employ publicists and PR firms to try to create the largest following and the most influence possible. They then wield this influence to get people to do what they want. The only difference is what they want people to do; celebrities endorse products, companies promote them and politicians get people to vote, right?
Wrong, the difference between politicians and companies/celebrities is ethics, or at least perceived ethics. Politicians are required to manipulate their constituents with the apparent honest intention of improving their lives. In the old world (before social media), celebrities and companies (who are legally allowed to have a profit motive), have no such restrictions. We knew, for example, that Eminem was paid to endorse Brisk during the superbowl, and that he may not be totally honest. However, unlike the old world of one-way advertising that is television and print ads, social media affords the constituents the ability to call “bullshit”. It’s easy to see a scenario in which Eminem tweets “I love Brisk Iced Tea” and 40 of his fans say, “I saw him buy a Snapple at a GetGo that had Brisk last week.” A simple #EminemFraud hash tag and a couple retweets later and all of a sudden, it’s a trending topic that Eminem is a lying, Snapple loving sellout. Ooops. So, in this new world, celebrities and companies have to be more covert then ever in how they promote products. Just like politicians they must now attempt to manipulate their constituents with the apperent honest intention of improving their lives.
The question, and it has yet to be answered, is how will social media keep the most influential among us from pushing us toward products and decisions that are not in our best interest, simply for profit? That is of course, IF we believe the sale of influence should be limited.