Leading the Nation Through Social Media: Jacinda Ardern’s Self-Presentation on Facebook During the COVID-19 Crisis
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This thesis aims to answer three research questions about politicians’ increasing use of social media. These questions are specifically related to New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, who has gained a great deal of popularity since coming to power in 2017, and who I noticed engaged with New Zealanders particularly in terms of their national identity during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. I investigate how Prime Minister Ardern used Facebook Live to engage with New Zealanders during the Covid-19 pandemic, how she appealed to New Zealanders’ sense of national identity as a tactic for compliance during Covid-19, and in what ways her use of Facebook Live affected her self-presentation. I elect to position this thesis within Critical Discourse Studies (CDS) and draw on analytical tools from the Discourse-Historical Approach (DHA) (Reisigl & Wodak, 2009) and Visual Grammar of social semiotics (Kress & Van Leeuwen, 2006) to examine identity construction of Prime Minister Ardern (that is, her self-presentation) as well as the construction of New Zealanders that are presented on her Facebook home page and particularly in her Facebook Live chat sessions. The analysis covers both visual and linguistic aspects. The main findings showed Ardern’s intention to allay fears and to regulate behaviours through her engagement with people on her Facebook page and in her live chat sessions. A discourse of national identity that emphasised the connection as a nation and upheld the value of compliance was adopted to encourage New Zealanders to fight the virus together. Ardern also presented herself in a more maternal way, to explain in simplistic terms to a wide audience what was happening and to encourage compliance with the social distancing and lockdown rules that were instigated. The findings suggest that the trust and support of New Zealanders during the pandemic could add a positive light to Ardern’s self-presentation on Facebook, which could be utilized for electioneering purposes and giving instructions as to how they could vote for her.