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How Political Candidates Can Use Social Media to Appear Authentic

The first morning at ECREA 2016 starts with a session that celebrates the launch of our Routledge Companion to Social Media and Politics, and begins with a paper by my co-editor Gunn Enli. Her interest is in the question of authenticity: this has become a big theme in advertising for just about any product or service, also including politics. This may be seen as a response to the artificial aspects of the postmodern world.

The more artificial ands focus group-tested political messaging becomes, the more the idea of authenticity has come to the fore. Such authenticity has been approached from a broad range of disciplinary perspectives, and the views on it are diverse – key contributions have been made by studies in fields such as advertising, tourism, and journalism.

Media performers use strategies such as predictability, spontaneity, intimacy, confessions, ordinariness, amateurism, and imperfection in order to appear authentic. Predictability may mean repeating the same talking points, expressing consistent views, or breaking the rules to appear more idiosyncratic. Spontaneity means acting in an unscripted, unplanned manner; showing uncontrolled emotions; and expressing personal autonomy by breaking the rules.

Intimacy involves showing some of the politician's private life, but how this is done may vary considerably across different countries and cultures. Confessions includes sharing personal histories; ordinariness involves behaving just like everyday people, including eating ordinary food, taking public transport, and engaging in popular sports. Amateurism means appearing to love what you do and avoiding cynical, calculated stances; imperfection, finally, involves showing (selected) weaknesses that may be real or staged (Norwegian PM Erna Solberg has openly stated that she has dyslexia, for instance, and so her social media posts frequently contain typos).

The authentic candidate, then, is increasingly important in politics, and social media provide a key arena where these strategies can be employed in pursuit of the appearance of authenticity. But how this is done also varies by country and region, not least because authenticity also relates to stereotypes about people.