Using social media to tap into the global political dialogue

Sarah Micallef - 28th May 2016

Elizabeth Linder, Facebook’s Politics and Government Specialist for Europe, North Africa and the Middle East recently delivered a talk organised by the University of Malta Faculty of Arts Committee for the Public Understanding of the Humanities. Here, she speaks about the growing impact of social media, the importance of her role within today’s online reality and her Malta talk, ‘The Human Connection: Facebook's Technology and the Global Political Dialogue’.

Starting her career at Google, Elizabeth Linder moved to Facebook, based in California, in 2008. Three years later, she moved to London to build the company’s politics and government division for the Europe, Middle East and Africa region, and has been there since.

Her primary role is helping people in positions of leadership understand how to connect to citizens who are affected by their leadership. “People began turning to Facebook to talk about political, governmental and societal issues, so much so that election-related topics were the most talked-about topics of conversation on Facebook last year,” she explains, giving an idea of the magnitude.

“It’s really important that if people are turning to Facebook to talk about their country and the issues that matter to them, that the people making decisions on their behalf are also in this space. That is where I fit in,” Ms Linder maintains.

“Election-related topics were the most talked-about topics of conversation on Facebook last year.”

And to her, it reflects the future of where political decision-making is going. “I see people in politics now having a much wider opportunity to reach more citizens and voters than ever before, and even engage in two-way dialogue. In order to connect with people in today’s world, you really have to be understanding of social media,” she continues.

But what does she feel are the implications of Facebook on politics? Speaking of the broader political world, Ms Linder points to decision-making as a primary factor, explaining, “politicians have a greater ability to make better decisions when those decisions are informed by a wider cross-section of people.” The second factor she points to is trust. “There is a huge opportunity to build trust with people by using Facebook well, and I think that this is quite powerful,” she says.

As for the impact of social media today, how far-reaching is it, when it comes to politics and the government in general? “We’ve been able to measure some impact,” Ms Linder affirms, maintaining that during an election, voter turnout will increase when people share that that they have voted on Facebook with their friends. “We carried out a study with Nature magazine – a US scientific magazine – where we found that people were encouraged to vote because they saw their friends were talking about it on social media. We found that 342,000 people were influenced to go to the polls because they had seen that a friend had voted on Facebook. That is enormously powerful – it is enough votes to determine an election,” she says.

Asked about Facebook’s own political stance, Ms Linder is quick to point out that as a company, Facebook is very much a-political. Having said that, she states that they do have a set of values that they adhere to. “Our mission is to help make the world more open and connected. We believe in that mission and strive to place that mission in the front of everything we do,” she continues.

Moving on to her Malta talk, I ask, what does she consider Facebook’s relationship with the so-called ‘global political dialogue’ to be? “This is one of the most exciting things about Facebook,” she points out, explaining, “no debate is limited to any one country or region, which means that people have a huge opportunity to connect globally.”

As for her experience of Malta during her visit, Ms Linder maintains, “I think we are going to see really interesting uses of Facebook in Malta moving forward. Elections are a few years off, but already I see a lot of excitement for politicians and government officials to use Facebook to communicate with citizens.”

This is a snippet. Read the full interview on the latest issue of The Commercial Courier here

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Using social media to tap into the global political dialogue