Trudeau vs. Merkel: How much Twitter does Politics need?

Germany is gearing up for federal election day and chancellor Angela Merkel is fighting to stay in office. However, her overly-professional attitude could be dooming her. The ‘Mother of Germany’ has become too unapproachable, according to Spiegel1 (a highly recognized German magazine). It has “become almost impossible to see the real person behind the chancellor-persona”. She does not appreciate disclosing private matters and friends who gossip will most likely never see her again. Objectivity is her trademark; but, in today’s world, it may no longer be a favourable one.

Since JFK, we know that politics can also be sexy. Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has revamped this image. While Angela Merkel dreads private appearances, Trudeau is utilizing the media and yellow press with well versed nonchalance for his purposes. Recently, he photobombed (seemingly by accident) the group picture of a Vancouver high school graduation class. A successful media-coup – until the word spread that the appearance was staged and the national leader’s personal photographer was already in position when Trudeau ‘coincidentally’ ran past the students. Many Canadians have mixed feelings towards these outings, especially because they cost a lot of tax dollars. Nevertheless, these appearances seem to increase Trudeau’s popularity. The media in Canada and the world as a whole cannot get enough of the youthful prime minister.

How much of this political pop-culture is healthy though? If politics become mere entertainment then our democracy has reached the end of the line. Then again, politicians have to learn to adapt to trends in communication, lest their voices be drowned out. Although she has been a big player in world politics for 12 years now, Angela Merkel only has 10,600 followers on Twitter (probably because she has only published 17 tweets so far). Trudeau, who just recently appeared on the stage of world politics, has already tweeted 15,000 times and he has 3.5 million supporters on Twitter. Has Merkel lost out in this case? At the very least, she will be hard-pressed to appeal to a younger generation of voters this way.

Merkel had decided that Twitter was not for her, according to Spiegel2. This is not a surprise, because social media operates on (feigned) intimacy. This is something she likes to avoid, no matter if fake or real. She does not want to be Angie, ‘girl of the crowds’. After all, it has taken her more than 12 years to create the image of the professional chancellor that values only objectivity and facts, so she is not willing to jeopardize that for Twitter or anything else.

Angela Merkel would surely appreciate many Canadians’ disdain for their prime minister’s habit of wrapping social media around his finger with his charismatic and seemingly candid appearances. However, this does not mean that politics and social media do not go together. The opposite is the case. In an age when many people get their political education from Facebook, politicians should definitely show presence in these outlets. Hence, the chancellor cannot refuse taking part in this, simply because she does not appreciate the medium. Well curated political content in social media is more important than ever before, and politicians in particular bear responsibility. Last week, on Democracy Day Justin Trudeau tweeted: ‘We all have a responsibility to keep our democracy strong.’ Therefore: Grab your smartphone, Angela! And Justin… Cut the topless pictures (even though we will miss them).

The Facts (September 2017):

Twitter: Angela Merkel – 10.600 Follower, 17 Tweets / Justin Trudeau – 3,5 Million Follower, 15.000 Tweets

Facebook: Angela Merkel – 2,5 Million Follower / Justin Trudeau – 5,5 Million Follower

Instagram: Angela Merkel 370 Thousand Follower / Justin Trudeau 1,6 Million Follower

1René Pfister / Britta Stuff: ‘Im Kartenhaus’. Der Spiegel 12/2017, S. 17-23.

2Vera Kämper: Staatsoberhäupter bei Twitter. Das Zwitschern der Macht. Spiegel Online 2004.

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