Being Authentic gives you power

America is getting heated up as the Presidential Election day is approaching. Many media and political firms are paying a lot of attention to the effect of Social Media usage on the Election result. In the meanwhile, South Korea is getting heated up for its own Presidential Election as well, which will be held on December 19th, 2012. Knowing its ability of wide reach of audience, all Korean presidential candidates are using social media services, such as facebook and twitter, as a campaign tool to promote and brand themselves. Because the candidates are seeing social media as an extension of their traditional campaign tool, where they are mostly stating their promises and ideas to their audiences and promoting the good side of them in a staged setting. Thus, it looks theatrical and does not feel genuine. However, Cheol-soo Ahn, a liberal independent candidate is using social media services’ technological affordances, such as twitter mentions, RT, facebook likes, to communicate and interact with people, and gave people the impression of authenticity; he had gained so much support from his identity performance on SNS.

Cheol-soo Ahn is currently present on facebook and twitter. Before he had created his twitter account recently, he performed his identity through his campaign group’s page, Ahn’s Jinshim (Sincerity) Camp. His original posts on the group’s page were more of official announcements along with his ideas behind it, such as his official announcement for presidential bid and how he had decided to be a candidate in a personal letter form. In comparison, Ahn’s Twitter account is created 10 days ago, on October 15th, 2012, and it is solely run by Ahn and has 72,402 followers. He has been tweeting 5 to 6 tweets throughout a day. The tweets are comprised of RT, replying back to the mentions, reflecting on the events and domestic issues of the day, reflection of himself, posting photos he took, or with another person, casual chats and witty conversation with other public figures, and etc. Because he is more active and engaged on Twitter more recently, I paid more attention to his twitter page to analyze his identity performance.

Hugo Liu, in his article “Social Network Profiles as Taste Performances,” says that people perform their identities through their social media profiles and their “taste statements.” The four taste statements defined by Liu are privilege, differentiation, authenticity, and theatrical statements. Prestige statement depicts dominant cultures that the audience would agree easily, and the good sides of the person. Differentiation statement depicts very unique cultures that would go against or differentiate from the audiences. Authentic statement depicts the genuine aspect of the person from his/her own point of view. Theatrical statement depicts a made-up aspect of a person that seem contrived to the audience.

Ahn’s twitter profile picture is a picture of him smiling with a microphone in his hand, surrounded by young audiences at one of the seminars he spoke to. This may be seen as Liu’s prestige statement because this picture is depicting only the “good” side of Ahn in a totally staged setting. However, he is a politician who wants to convince others through his ideas to more people, so I think this picture is an authentic representation of him.

On his first day of twitter, Ahn followed his friends, partners, rivals, and others he is interested in; this includes Won-soon Park, the mayor of Seoul and Ahn’s partner, Keun-hye Park and Jae-in Mmon, his biggest rivals for the election, Barak Obama, whom Ahn is often compared to in his campaign process, Mitt Romney, and other Korean celebrities who actively expresses their political views and Ahn is friends with. This followed-list also depicts the authenticity of Ahn since these connections were already publicly well known. Now, he follows 11,408 people and this depicts another authentic aspect of him, because he always had emphasized that “communication” is the key and he would try his best to communicate with people. He had showed that through following his followers, RT, or having lateral communication with his audience.

Alice E. Marwick and danah boyd, in their article “I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: Twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience,” talks about how the imagined audience influence producer’s contents. Because we always have someone in our minds when producing contents in public space, and try to publish what the imagined audiences want to hear; the imagined audience could be myself, ideal audience, or some specific group I want to reach out to. Ahn’s imagined audience is any Koreans with voting rights and actively uses social media. Therefore to reach out and appeal to his audiences, through active tweets, he talks about the national issues, reflect on it, suggest the solution that he has, and asks his audience to be more deliberate and engaged as a citizen. Also, because he wants to reach as many people as possible, he does not use any sub-tweets, and rather use “lowest common denominator,” so more people can understand what he is saying.

Zizi Papacharissi, in her essay ““Without You, I’m Nothing: Performance of the Self on Twitter,” says twitter users express themselves through playfulness. When Kang-Full, a well-known web cartoon artist was telling Ahn a wrong twitter social norm intentionally and calling him a “noob” as a joke, Ahn replied back playfully and this witty and may be intimate conversation was published as articles at other news websites, because it was something unexpected from a presidential candidate, and reached to more audience outside of twitter world and.

Ahn has been highlighted by the media so much even before his announcement of presidential bid as a anti-virus software mogul, professor, CEO, best seller writer, famous speaker, but not as a politician. This software mogul-turned-politician said he is running for presidency to reform the traditional way of governing, and his social media campaign was his first step of differentiation from his rivals, who tend to follow the traditional way of governing people. Ahn’s tweets seem very authentic, and in comparison, his rivals’ tweets seem like someone else wrote for them and the pictures they display look very staged. Also, his rivals still rely more on mass media, where Ahn is trying his best to not distribute his idea through mass media, and give his thoughts directly to the audience with no filters. Therefore, in order to differentiate himself from his rivals, Ahn is constantly tweeting and modifies his profile to give the authentic impression to his imagined audiences, and I think this is why twitter users believe and support him more and more (while I was writing this post, Ahn’s followers increased by 400 people).

Ahn’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/cheolsoo0919

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One comment

  1. I very much enjoyed this article. The last paragraph was particularly stirring because the questions of political authenticity in candidates is reflected in the United States presidential candidates and indeed the entire political process. In your article, you suggest the Korean Independent candidate Cheol-soo Ahn crafts his tweets authentically; that is he speaks his mind on a variety of issues, is appropriate but does not necessarily tweet for the lowest common denominator, and above all else actually constructs the Tweets himself. The last point seems to separate Ahn from the other candidates most clearly.

    Modern politics is a battle of carefully chosen words, actions, and appearances. Ahn’s rival candidates most likely had hired consultants to write his Tweets, with the goal to reach potential voters and connect with them. This is an extremely common practice in modern politics, with hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent on maintaining the desired image for the politician. In the US there are teams of consultants that debate on everything from Tweets to color of ties to what kind of beer to be seen drinking publicly. This lack of authenticity in politics suggests a clear division in the public and elected officials.

    I think that the article subtly suggests that in todays Digital Age authenticity is becoming more and more important. With a greater amount of independent thinking voters, who are able to see through the political facade, clarity and honesty seem to hold greater merit than surface perfection. One can only hope that the Ahn will have success for his practice of authentic interaction and the trend will catch on.

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