Barack Obama’s election as President of the United States in 2008 marked a turning point in political campaigning. Initially dismissed as an underfunded no-hoper, he confounded the pundits through his sophisticated use of the available social media platforms.
In a rare flash of honest insight, Arron Banks, the businessman who bankrolled Nigel Farage’s UKIP party and the Leave.EU campaign, reflected on the Obama victory: ‘All the liberal and left-leaning people thought [it] was a fabulous thing and that he had discovered gold dust. When it goes the other way it is not quite the same.’
For those ‘liberal and left-leaning people’, 2016 marked a turning point in the way they thought about social media. Once heralded as harbingers of democracy following the Obama campaign and the Arab Spring, Facebook and Twitter, in particular, were suddenly perceived as irresponsible, scary and destructive, coarsening civil discourse and enabling the rise of populism.