Politics for the Millennial: Political Campaigns Have Changed in the Social Media Age

  |  Topic: Opinion, Politics, Social Media
Written By: Sireesh Ramesh
Jon Ossoff social media ad

The millennial generation (those of us born after 1980) have grown up with the wonders (and horrors) of the internet only a few clicks away. Though parents and teachers are quick to caution against creating a negative online presence after the onset of the internet age, only in the past few years have we begun to truly see what kind of an effect the internet can have on our future prospects.

One of the most concrete revelations can perhaps be found in Georgia’s current Sixth District Congressional race where Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old documentary filmmaker hopes to be the sixth millennial member of Congress after the run-off election on June 20.

As one of the youngest individuals to ever run for Congress, Ossoff went to college during the start of the social networking revolution. Facebook, in fact, went global when Ossoff was a freshman at Georgetown University. The creation of social media suddenly meant that one’s youth was publicly and permanently documented. Any slip-up caught on camera could end someone’s job (or political) prospects for good.

A friend of Ossoff’s told the Mother Jones in an interview that Ossoff — even in his college years — was relatively clear-eyed on the repercussions social media could have on his ambitions, and thus, he tried his best to be a “squeaky clean guy.” The outer sheen of his online presence, however, would not stop his opponents in this year’s race from digging up dirt on the eventual frontrunner.  

In early March, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC funded by House GOP leaders, spent $1.1 million on an ad buy that presented videos of a college-aged Ossoff impersonating “Star Wars” character Han Solo and making fun of Georgetown girls with his singing a capella club friends. The political ad used the footage to paint Ossoff as someone who is “not honest, not serious” and “not ready.”

Interestingly, the conservative super PAC supporting Ossoff’s GOP opponent Karen Handel did not have to look far to embarrass Ossoff on national television. The video where Ossoff is found singing “Georgetown girl … she never tires of her high-class toys” is open to the public on the Georgetown Chimes’ YouTube channel.

The attack ad could be indicative of a newfound influence the internet now has over career aspirations: Those who are not attentive with their digital participation can face unwanted consequences in the years to come.

Based on poll numbers, it seems that the Ossoff campaign has been hurt very little, if at all, by the political advertisement bashing the candidate based on his youthful online activity. And there is something to be said about our current president, who, as a candidate, was forced to confront a more serious expose: his 2005 remarks condoning sexual assault. Yet, he still went on to win presidency by more than 70 electoral votes.

Thus, it seems that maybe voters are willing to draw a distinction between past and present versions of a candidate — or, at least simply willing to forget the past in favor of a candidate’s present ideology.

So, should young people really care, then, about what they are putting on the internet? Probably. Though it may not have hurt the Ossoff campaign, the advertisement is still a reflection of a broader trend. People are beginning to assess qualifications based on our online presence. Recently admitted Harvard students learned this the hard way when their acceptances were rescinded after they posted texted and posted racist and offensive memes on private chats.   According to the Chicago Tribune, 84 percent of employers in one survey used social media to assess the merit of a candidate and their ensuing likelihood to be a part of the company. College admissions officers, too, have begun to see social media as another platform to gauge the merits of an applicant.

So, though recent political campaigns may suggest the contrary, it is most likely in our best interest that we keep those online profiles squeaky clean.

SireeshSireesh, 16, attends Chattahoochee High School and plays three musical instruments.

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