The square in the broadest sense, therefore the agora, the forum, the center of the village, etc. has been for centuries the centre, the metaphor, the objective, the field of political communication. That is until new technologies and mass media have not physically distanced politicians from voters: radio, TV and finally the web. These tools have emptied the squares but let politicians into our homes.
Until the first decade of the century, the messages of politics were unidirectional, with the arrival of social media they are now bidirectional. Electoral campaigns, no longer limited in time and space, become permanent and good for mobilizing the entire national territory (and sometimes even beyond). Campaigns are used by leaders to create a real political brand, with which they convey the candidate’s values and attributes they transcend the contingency of the single electoral competition.
Psychological manipulation in politics it’s nothing new, has been used for some centuries now, if not always in less scientific forms. Napoleon, as noted by Packardwas among the first politicians to address the issue in a more modern way, giving life (for this as for other sectors of his innovative government) to a dedicated institution, a body for press and propaganda known as the Bureau de l’Opinion Publique. Office in charge of manufacturing posters, but above all the narratives contained therein, to direct public opinion by conforming it to one’s needs. Such manipulation of the public by a tyrant is not a difficult undertaking, especially if the society is well regimented, this is prepared to align without the state necessarily resorting to brute force. «One can perfectly conceive of a world dominated by an invisible dictatorship in which, however, the outward forms of democratic government have been maintained». Kenneth Boulding
It was more difficult when it was necessary to start operate on citizens of a democratic society, free to ignore the demands of the tyrant without fear of being called to order by the police. It was the “symbol manipulators” who provided Power with the tools to decline the political manipulation of the masses in the new society. It was with the 1956 US presidential campaign that these professionals, imported from the advertising worldintroduced great innovations into political life. Pavlov’s studies on conditioned reflexes, Freud’s studies on sexuality and above all on the Oedipus complex (particularly focusing on the father figure), Riesman’s theory (which saw the voter as a spectator-consumer of politics) as well as mass market analysis conducted by the agency Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborn, were the main tools for synthesizing and proposing new strategies in step with the times.
We have gone from electoral rallies in the squares (with an extremely heterogeneous public although limited to individual locations at a time) to targeting accurate of its electorate by interests, geolocation, income ranges or other factors. The consent marketing model used today also in Italy is the US one, based above all on the fragment public opinion and recompose it by giving each particle of voters the most effective message, without leaving a coherent frame which is that of the leader’s values and attributes.
“The war of absolute enmity knows no limitations. It finds its meaning and its legitimacy precisely in the will to reach the extreme consequences. The only question therefore is this: is there an absolute enemy, and who exactly is it?
The modern partisan expects neither right nor mercy from the enemy. He has placed himself outside the conventional enmity of controlled and circumscribed warfare, moving into another dimension: that of true enmity, which through terror and anti-terrorist measures continuously grows up to the will to annihilation» – Carl Schmitt, The Partisan Theory (1963)
The friend/enemy dynamic is increasingly becoming a communicative tactic, no longer a consequence of ideological positioning. The extreme polarization of messages, which simplistically divide the world into black or white, artfully manipulated to increase their viral load, is the basic behavior of politicians’ social media managers.
In relationship with the web, television remains important for the concept of “perfect minute”, that winning segment of the debates ready to be isolated from the rest of the broadcast to then be shared on social media even if the opponent’s reply had actually dampened its charge. In debates it doesn’t matter anymore the question and answer and having won it over the opponent, not even knowing how to defend oneself effectively.
The choice on dove (in which programs) to appear has become more important than quantity of time spent on screens. Occupying as much space as possible was the communicative strategy of the golden age of television (see Berlusconi who in one day could attend three, four, five television programs in addition to the news), now instead the targeting suggests appearing also less but better.
Then there is the phenomenon of fake news and fake profiles (the so-called trolls who sabotage opponent profiles but also those who positively upload their posts) that have more and more importance in persuading the public and directing them, too indirectly, within the aforementioned strategic frame. In the United States above all, a large part of the population states that social networks are their preferred method for obtaining information, and most declare that they have great faith in the news without paying too much attention to the actual credibility of the source. The speed with which we hear the news does not allow no critical mediation and lacks time for a comparison.
We thus understand that the strategy of politicians and influencers is the same, with the difference of the goal to be achieved. Each person can achieve it simply by replicating the methods of others, changing very little in formats. Politics has exacerbated itself by piloting social media, transforming them into a land of confrontation and clear-cut positions. In this context, the border between information and disinformation, subjective judgment and objective evaluation becomes blurry.