Tyler Thomas is a student at Durham University and the editor at The Oak Post.
“Somebody took a liberal, a conservative and a “moderate” and sent them on a Google search in relation to Egypt. For the conservative, it came up “Muslim Brotherhood,” for the liberal, it came up “Tahrir Square” and for the moderate, it came up “Vacation Spots on the Nile.”
This anecdote shows the fundamental flaw in social media and the internet as a whole – one that the Conservative Party fails to recognise in its online campaigns. Not acting upon the filtering algorithms of the internet is the biggest threat to its longevity.
Why does a party that has narrowed the attainment gap between disadvantaged secondary school pupils in their GCSE’ and A-levels from 11 per cent to 3.2 per cent since 2011; a party that has increased the likelihood of those receiving free meals going to university by 83 per cent, fail so horrifically with young voters?
It’s not even as if the party only focuses on the poor: almost twice as many young people have jobs due to the Conservative Government. Yet to label yourself as a young Tory is a cardinal sin, equating to social suicide. The reason for this is a horrifically failed media strategy. The problem is not a lack of policies targeting youth voters – just look at the statistics, the Conservatives have by and large been beneficial to young people. The problem is the parties inability to connect with this demographic through social media.
Social media campaigns, in the modern era, are by far the most effective way to spread awareness and support for candidates and parties. The Conservative Party knows this: in the snap election of 2017, its spending on social media was almost four times that of Labour. Yet, like a grandparent using google for the first time, they fail to grasp what social media is really about. Social media campaigns need to connect with people, and allow people with comparative views to relate with each other. It is not, as the Conservatives seem to believe, a thing you can simply throw money at come election time.
What the party fails to recognise is that social media is a long game. It is about creating a loyal voting base – an echo chamber in which the party forwards its views to the loyal, who then go on to share this with their friends. Peer pressure is crucial in winning long term support, it just takes just a look at Twitter to see this in action. Twitter is just like the real world: groups of connected people are greatly influenced by what those around them believe, regardless of the truth. If it appears that an individual’s network of connections strongly supports Jeremy Corbyn and Labour, it is natural that they, in turn, will be far more likely to join this group, so as to conform with those around them.
This is what the Conservative Party misses. The long game is off. Rather than unite a community (that will grow naturally due to social conformity) under a central belief, the party throws money at targeted advertising during the build-up to elections. This fails to create a stable voting base and, amongst an increasingly politically engaged youth, who have around three hours per day of potential exposure to social media campaigns, it is no wonder that Labour (who get social media right) lead by so much in the 18-24 age group.
Voting data shows that the likelihood that you vote for Labour decreases by about nine points for every 10 years older you are. Your likelihood of having a twitter account decreases at almost the exact same rate. This close correlation is not just an entertaining statistical fluke. It is telling, and more importantly, foreboding for the future of the Conservative party. Times have changed, no longer can the Conservative party count on the youth moving rightwards as they age. The close statistical relationship between social media exposure and voting preference points towards the conclusion that the Conservative Party retains popularity amongst older people because they simply don’t see the effective social media campaigns by Labour.
This points towards a scary future for Conservatives. It would appear that, unless the Party re-evaluates its social media policy, its voters are simply going to die off. The ideological capture that social media echo chambers create means that young people enter an online world that pushes them leftwards. They engage with these views – and, as they engage more, they are pushed further and further away from the Conservative Party by the invisible algorithms of the internet.
In a world in which social media engagement is only going to increase, it seems illogical to assume that, based on age, these people will move rightwards, when already up to three hours of their daily time is taken up by news and ideology that is filtered leftwards .
This is the single greatest trial facing the Conservative Party. It is of grave consequence, not only to it but to the nation as a whole, as to whether the forces of Tory social media will adapt and overcome their flaws – or be consigned to failure as their share of social media influence dwindles further than it already has.