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With argentine presidential  elections ahead, candidates are trying to gather the greatest amount of votes and achieve victory. But developing an original strategy to get the electorate’s attention can sometimes end up atrracting an wrong type of it. Sergio Massa (‘Frente Renovador’ party) is one of the most promising, and most likely to defeat Mauricio Macri (‘PRO’ party candidate) and – still not designated- candidate for ‘Frente para la Victoria’ (current ruling party in Argentina). After having most of the public opinion and the media on his side, Massa made a risky move last month, which could cost him his political campaign.

Seeking to generate ‘empathy’ with his presidential candidacy, Massa followed his Campaign Advisor advice and created a series of spots under the slogan ‘Tell me what your dreams are’ aimed at various provinces in the country. In the ads, Massa tries to imitate different local accents, even avoiding pronouncing the ‘S’ at the end of the words in an attempt to make the targeted provincials ‘identify’ with his proposal. He was not always successful in imitating the different accents so the effort turned out being quite noticeable and hard to find authentic and credible.

The spots were launchedmassa on YouTube as campaign ads and they are all the same except for the accents and local expressions. It did not take the audience long to realize they were all receiving the same messages in poorly faked accents found to be unauthentic. So what began as a way to reach out to voters ended up mocking them, and the audience responded almost immediately. Hours after the ads were released, ‘Massa’s different accents’ became a hot topic on Twitter with a ridiculous amount of mockery such as Massa being photoshopped as Morpheus saying ‘I’m talking to you, that you are there trapped in the Matrix’. He was also portrayed as Harry Potter talking to the ‘Hogwarts community’ and even as a Simpson addressing Springfield neighbors. The list contains at least 60 different jokes that were played with his ads and portrayed him as different well known chamassa 1racters both fictional and real.

After this brief account of what has happened the question is: up to what extent was all this process and piece of news magnified by the new media? Is it true that ‘television remains king’ [1]  when it comes to setting the agenda of public issues?

According to Neuman, Bimber and Hindman in The Internet and Four Dimensions of Citizenship, ‘Internet use may eventually alter public agendas by breaking down boundaries of many kinds in the public sphere’. And that is exactly what is happening here: people from all over Argentina got notice of these ‘faked accents’ mostly because they started reading different posts on Twitter or bumping into YouTube mocking videos that exposed Massa’s strategy. If it had not been for social media, every citizen would have seen the ad aimed at his or her region and most likely would not have found out about Massa’s intentions to target audiences by imitating their accents. It took them getting in touch with different people from the country through the new media to know what was really going on countrywide and find out that what may have seemed authentic at first was now starting to reveal its true nature.

With that being said, it is clear that the whole issue took place and first spread through and because of the new media and the Internet. These ads weren’t broadcasted on air in conventional TV Channels but instead Massa’s campaign team chose to launch them on YouTube probably because it’s cheaper and mostly because it allows you to segment the audience so that the targeting is more effective. As we all know, news is increasing the rate in which it spreads, so it was not long until everybody within the Social Media community had heard about and seen the ads and/or the mocking videos and images. Most commonly people went to check what the real ads looked like after having already bumped into the jokes first.

The whole piece of news started, developed, and was spread all through the New Media within hours. It took a day or two for the issue to be raised by mainstream media outlets, which also brings up the idea that it was actually the New Media that altered the public agenda and the traditional news outlets had to raise the news rather than the other way around. Even though the authors stand by the idea that the “New Media are more polarized than traditional broadcast or print news outlets” [2] and that is why they are not able to have an influence on the public agenda, I think that hypothesis does not apply any more. Nowadays, the different social media highly converge within each other and what becomes a hot topic in one social medium rapidly spreads through the rest of the new media. It is quite impossible not to hear or see anything related to a hot topic if you have even one account in a social medium. And this fact makes it necessary for the mainstream news outlets to pick up the trending topic or scandal that is invading the social media. If they want to keep on proving relevant to their audiences they have to talk about what they want to hear, and scandals spreading through social media is something they look forward to knowing more about.

‘Citizens themselves need to be able to raise issues of concern and redirect attention to topics they care about’[3] said Habermas in one of his works about the public sphere. After this brief analysis I can say that Habermas’ idea of what the public sphere is may apply to what is happening today in the online community. The issues that are of interest today may not fit into Habermas’ ideal of the public sphere, but still they are what the public brings up and wants to discuss about. The internet has the ability to break down barriers between ‘individual citizens and small groups’[4] which in certain way democratizes information and the power to have an influence on the public agenda by expressing through the Social Media and reaching hundreds of people with one message. The public sphere loses its ‘exclusivity’ in Habermas’ terms, but I believe this loss is due to today’s world and how the public sphere evolved to fit into it. Added to this, I think that this democratization of the information actually contributes to democracy since every day it gets more difficult for politicians and authorities to keep secrets from the public and try to manipulate them. We are all well aware of much of what is going on in the higher spheres of power and it only takes one person with a social medium account to let the whole world know about things that are jeopardizing our democracy and citizenship. The more we know the more eligible we are to vote and chose our representatives. The more we get involved the more citizenship we exercise. So instead of trying to fool the audience -as Massa failed to do- politicians should focus on performance and meaning, and try to reflect, both in the ‘old’ and ‘new’ media, an image that is credible and authentic, because at the end of the day we can tell who is being real and who is not.

[1] Neuman W. R., Bimber B., & Hindman M. (2010). The Internet and Four Dimensions of Citizenship. The Oxford Handbook of American Public Opinion and Media. Online version available at: online at: http://www.wrneuman.com/nav_pub_92_275693743.pdf. Page 28

[2]Neuman W. R., Bimber B., & Hindman M. Op. cit. Page 21

[3] Ibid. Page 10. Quote extracted from Habermas, Jűrgen ([1962] 1989). The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. Cambridge, MIT Press.

[4]Ibid. Page 11

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