How people receive information has changed vastly over the last couple of decades. With a new generation of voters increasingly reliant on social media for news, views and campaigning, conservatives need to adapt quickly to stave off a demographic problem in our voter base. Labour’s 2017 General Election campaign successfully converted young people into voters and activists with a social media-heavy strategy, both in its official party organisation and through proxy groups like Momentum, the Canary etc..
Conservative students are well placed to take the fight back to Labour on social media. Knowing the sorts of angles that other people our age consider to be convincing, we are able to tailor snappy and viral posts on social media that provide a sensible, progressive set of reasons to vote for the Conservatives. Equally, we can see the things our friends are sharing from other political perspectives and so can be on the frontline of factchecking and providing alternative narratives, so as to prevent left-wing echo chambers building up on social media and misleading points going unchallenged.
That point about breaking down echo chambers on social media is vitally important. If the majority of young people who are politically vocal on social media are anti-Conservative then there is no counter-narrative for people who are less politically active to engage with. Positing viewpoints that these people may not have considered will get them thinking and might bring them around to a Conservative position. It is worth particularly considering that most young people tend to respond best to moderate, positive arguments, so framing points in a positive way is especially helpful to counter the hopeful narrative provided by Corbyn and Labour.
In essence, we need Conservative students to utilise social media platforms to make points and arguments that can reach our colleagues in a way that other forms of campaigning cannot. In 2017, we lost control of the narrative in its entirety on social media and that cost us because we didn’t provide anything to make young people think about.
Publications like The Mallard which allow young conservatives a platform to publish their opinions and present their reasoning for their political positions are also vitally important. Providing young people with a vast range of different reasons to support Conservative policies ensures that we can successfully target people across many political positions and could help to convince wavering voters to vote Conservative. Articles are also useful tools to back up short points with – one can make a brief argument on social media and then share a link to an article with a more in-depth explanation to emphasise their point and really make people think about the issue under discussion. Furthermore, a decent range of opinion pieces gives shy conservatives evidence that they are not alone in their beliefs, and will be accepted for them, which could help to drive up the number of young Conservative activists available to the party, and increase the conservative presence on social media.
Giving exposure to the writings of young conservatives also helps us refine our ideas and gives us food for thought on how we sell the things we believe in. Debate and looking at different nuanced positions are the best ways for people to develop and strengthen their policy prescriptions and ensure that they stand up to scrutiny. Even within conservative-dominated platforms there will be nuance and disagreement, and that is a positive that can help all conservatives reach better and more unassailable points.
Ultimately, even if the Conservative Party can improve its social media presence, it needs young people to take the fight to Labour on social media if it hopes to beat the Momentum machine next time around. Social media provides both an incredible challenge and an incredible opportunity: if conservatives fail to regain some portion of the narrative online, we risk losing control of it for a generation; if we can regain it and establish publications like The Mallard to provide pro-conservative narratives, then we could end up stronger than ever.
Matthew’s article can be found in print form in the new 1828 Journal from the King’s College London Conservative Association, as of tomorrow (Wednesday the 15th November).