How WhatsApp has become a tool for political communication and controversy
WhatsApp is a popular messaging app that allows users to send encrypted and ephemeral messages to each other. It has been widely used by politicians and policy makers as a way to communicate quickly and privately, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, WhatsApp has also been a source of scandal and criticism, as some of the messages have been leaked or revealed to the public, exposing the inner workings and opinions of the political elites.
Some of the messages have shown the incompetence, corruption, and heartlessness of some politicians, who have used WhatsApp to insult, mock, or dismiss their opponents, colleagues, or constituents. For example, in the UK, Dominic Cummings, the former chief adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, has been accused of using WhatsApp to call Health Secretary Matt Hancock “hopeless” and “criminal”, among other things. Other messages have revealed the lack of empathy and compassion of some Tory MPs, who have joked about the fate of the elderly under Covid-19.
Other messages have shown the creativity, innovation, and collaboration of some politicians, who have used WhatsApp to share ideas, information, and solutions to the challenges posed by the pandemic. For example, in Scotland, some SNP MPs have used WhatsApp to coordinate their campaigns, policies, and media appearances, as well as to support each other and celebrate their achievements. Some messages have also shown the humour, personality, and humanity of some politicians, who have used WhatsApp to express their emotions, frustrations, and hopes.
How WhatsApp has changed the dynamics and norms of political communication
WhatsApp has also had an impact on the dynamics and norms of political communication, as it has enabled new forms of interaction, influence, and information. WhatsApp has created new spaces for political dialogue, where politicians can exchange views, debate issues, and negotiate outcomes, without the constraints of formal institutions, protocols, or hierarchies. WhatsApp has also created new channels for political mobilization, where politicians can rally support, recruit allies, and coordinate actions, without the interference of external actors, media, or public opinion.
However, WhatsApp has also created new risks and challenges for political communication, as it has reduced the transparency, accountability, and quality of the decision-making process. WhatsApp has enabled a culture of secrecy, where politicians can hide their motives, intentions, and actions from the scrutiny of the public, the media, or the law. WhatsApp has also enabled a culture of informality, where politicians can bypass the rules, standards, and evidence that govern the policy-making process. WhatsApp has also enabled a culture of impulsivity, where politicians can act on their emotions, instincts, or biases, without the reflection, deliberation, or consultation that are necessary for sound judgment.
How WhatsApp reflects the human nature and challenges of the political class
WhatsApp is not only a technology, but also a mirror, that reflects the human nature and challenges of the political class. WhatsApp reveals the strengths and weaknesses, the virtues and vices, the hopes and fears, of the politicians who use it. WhatsApp also reveals the opportunities and threats, the possibilities and limitations, the achievements and failures, of the political system that they operate in.
WhatsApp is not a god-like technology that can solve all the problems of humanity, nor a Paleolithic emotion amplifier that can unleash all the passions of humanity. WhatsApp is a tool that can be used for good or evil, for better or worse, depending on the choices and actions of the users. WhatsApp is also a test that can measure the character and competence, the responsibility and accountability, the vision and values, of the users.
The future of WhatsApp, and of political communication, depends on how the politicians and the public use it, regulate it, and improve it. Will WhatsApp be a force for democracy, or a weapon for tyranny? Will WhatsApp be a platform for dialogue, or a medium for propaganda? Will WhatsApp be a source of enlightenment, or a cause of confusion? The answers are not yet clear, but they will shape the destiny of our society.