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Katleen Gabriels is a moral philosopher specializing in computer ethics at Maastricht University. She conducts research into the relationships between morality and computer technologies.

Anyone who looks at the Facebook pages of politicians generally has no idea whether they have ended up on the page of a seasoned influencer or on that of an actual politician. This ambiguity stems from the never-ending stream of selfies and other photos of the politician in question. All for the sake of likes and for the podium it presents.

Political marketing has undergone a major transformation in recent years. Social media has pushed politicians into constant campaign mode. Image and personal branding are put on a pedestal. In the past, their faces were only seen on a limited scale during election periods or in traditional media. Whereas today they are constantly visible online. Cabinets are spending more and more money on communications consultants who then keep a strict watch on the reputation and image of politicians. As became clear in June with the commotion surrounding the documentary about Sigrid Kaag (D66 member of parliament). The D66 campaign team even asked to manipulate images in which Kaag was not wearing a seatbelt. The documentary makers did not respond to this request.

Eye doctor

“For vision, you should go to the eye doctor,” Mark Rutte said a few years ago, echoing former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. Political vision for politicians is limited to their own term. The emphasis is on scoring points quickly. That was even at the expense of public health in recent months, when the outgoing Rutte cabinet rushed to relax corona measures without waiting for the advice of experts.

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Another way of scoring points quickly is to rely on expensive campaigns. These look flashy and give the impression that the problem is being dealt with. The lion’s share of these, however, vanishes immediately from our collective memory and has no lasting effect. Simply because there are no structural measures being taken. Yet at the launch of each campaign, the politicians themselves are only briefly in the news. Including the obligatory photos for social media. And so they use campaigns, paid for with taxpayer’s money, to campaign for themselves.

Form over substance

Political parties spend a lot of money on online campaigns. Unfortunately, citizens cannot simply rely on any of this information being correct. For example, at the end of 2018 the Flemish political party N-VA funded a Facebook campaign about the UN migration pact. A fact check by the Flemish newspaper De Morgen showed that no less than five of the six slogans that N-VA spread via Facebook were false. Fake news spread by politicians and paid for by the Flemish citizen, because parties are financed with taxpayers’ money there.

The stakes are sky-high. Substance loses out to form, the long term to the short term and correct information to slogans and sometimes even outright fake news. And in all this, a lot of money disappears down the drain. So, if they are so concerned about their reputation, then here’s a quick tip: If you want to be remembered for a long time, focus on the long term.

About this column

In a weekly column, alternately written by Eveline van Zeeland, Eugene Franken, Helen Kardan, Katleen Gabriels, Carina Weijma, Bernd Maier-Leppla and Colinda de Beer, Innovation Origins tries to find out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally supplemented by guest bloggers, are all working on solutions in their own way on the problems of our time. So that tomorrow will be good. Here are all the previous articles.

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