Short explainer – Janus-faced campaigning. What is it and why does it matter in the social media age?

Janus-faced campaigning refers to the practice of presenting different messages or positions to different audiences in order to appeal to a wider range of voters. Originating in my thesis that studied the use of Facebook as an election campaign tool from 2010-2020, the term “Janus-faced” comes from the Roman god Janus, who was depicted as having two faces, one looking forward and one looking backward. In the context of my thesis, I used the term to suggest that candidates or parties are presenting different faces to different groups, depending on the audience. This potential is especially prevalent given the rise and use of social media, especially micro-targeting.

Janus-faced campaigning is often seen as a negative practice, as it can be seen as dishonest or insincere. Candidates who engage in Janus-faced campaigning may be accused of pandering to different groups or trying to appeal to everyone without actually taking a clear stance on important issues. This can lead to mistrust and cynicism among voters, who may feel that candidates are not being genuine or transparent.

These images were all micro-targeted at different groups via Facebook during the 2019 UK General Election.

There are a variety of reasons why candidates or parties might engage in Janus-faced campaigning. One reason is that they may believe that certain positions or messages will be more appealing to certain groups of voters, and therefore they tailor their message accordingly. For example, a candidate may present themselves as a strong supporter of gun rights to a group of gun owners, while at the same time presenting themselves as a strong supporter of gun control to a group of gun control advocates.

Another reason for Janus-faced campaigning is that candidates may believe that it is necessary to present different messages or positions in order to appeal to a wide range of voters. For example, a candidate may believe that it is necessary to present themselves as both fiscally conservative and socially liberal in order to appeal to both conservative and liberal voters.

The power of social media has further complicated the issue of Janus-faced campaigning, as it has made it easier for candidates and parties to present different messages or positions to different audiences. With the proliferation of social media platforms and the ability to target specific groups of users, it is now possible for candidates to present different messages to different groups of voters without those groups ever coming into contact with each other. This can make it difficult for voters to get a clear sense of where a candidate or party stands on key issues, and can further erode trust in the electoral process.

Furthermore, the rise of social media has made it easier for candidates and parties to spread misinformation or engage in propaganda, as it is easy to create fake social media accounts or manipulate algorithms to spread certain messages. This can further undermine the integrity of the electoral process, as voters may be swayed by false or misleading information. The power of social media has added another layer to the issue of Janus-faced campaigning, and it is important for candidates and parties to be transparent and honest in their use of social media in order to maintain trust and integrity in the electoral process.

Overall, Janus-faced campaigning can be seen as a negative practice, as it can lead to mistrust and cynicism among voters and undermine the integrity of the electoral process. It is important for candidates to be transparent and genuine in their campaign messaging, rather than trying to appeal to different groups by presenting different faces to different audiences.

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