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Practicing Politics In The Digital Age: Websites, Apps And Tools To Engage

08/06/2017 14:19

Back in April, PM Theresa May announced a snap election for the UK, taking much of the country by surprise. The UK's last snap election was held in 1979, when the Conservatives won a majority of seats under Margaret Thatcher's lead, and the next general election wasn't expected until 2020.

The political landscape is starkly different today than in the 1970s, however, and the way the public - and parties - communicate politically has changed enormously.

Although voter turnout is lower than in years gone by, it's been on the up since 2001, in part helped by the rise in digital technologies which has made politics more accessible and digestible for the general public.

Thanks to the widespread popularity of social media and 'Internet of Things', we have greater access to political information today than ever before, and the opportunities to express ourselves and voice our opinions are near endless.

We take a look at just a few examples of how both voters and candidates are using digital technologies to engage in politics and democracy below.

Voter alignment tools
Data from Google Trends highlighted an influx of searches relating to voting advice, with variations of the search term "who should I vote for" topping the search engine's requests last month ahead of the general election. Beyond Google, popular tools to help voters make the all-important decision include ISideWith, Who Should You Vote For? and Vote For Policies, while the likes of The Times, Independent and even Unilad have developed their own tools, the latter of the three partnering with GE2017.com to develop a tailored widget to help readers work out who to vote for.

Keep up with candidates
Democracy Club offers all manner of open democracy data to voters, with crowdsourced information allowing users to get to know their local candidates in an easy-to-access format. One of their most popular offerings is Who Can I Vote For?, a tool that provides information on local candidates upon entering a postcode, including their statement to voters, campaign leaflets, CV, social media posts, and their party's manifesto.

Snoop on current MPs
Similarly, parliamentary monitoring website They Work For You by charity mySociety allows voters to hold current and previous MPs to account by publishing politicians' voting history and a full, searchable archive of every word spoken in Parliament - helpful for unearthing even the most niche topics.

Tailored news notifications
Information overload is one of the major downsides of our thriving digital landscape - however, the British public are finding their own ways to navigate through the noise. The Guardian's app offers readers who've turned on The Snap notifications a daily roundup of general election news, while web users can sign up for tailored Google Alerts using keywords for the topics and political parties they are most interested in hearing about.

Social media
Although the younger generation have traditionally posed a difficult demographic for political parties to target, Trending Stories on Facebook and Twitter Trends allow digitally-savvy millennials to follow election news and updates in a digestible manner on a platform they are already well-versed in. Facebook has also taken steps to encourage users to show their political support in their profile photo, offering the option to add a frame to their image declaring their voting preference, while Snapchat launched a general election geofilter to remind users to register to vote before the 22 May deadline.

Memes
Memes - a typically comical image or video that is virally shared online - have taken the internet by storm over the last few years. In the run up to the US election, countless wittily-captioned images poking fun at the candidates were circulated online, and the UK's general election is no different, with memes celebrating or challenging the major parties making the rounds online since the snap election was announced in April.

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