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Many users open platforms like Instagram or Twitter anticipating some carefree scrolling through funny posts or memes. But after years of a tense political climate, targeted ads from politicians have taken over social media feeds.
“Young adults who are voting are pretty much addicted to their cell phones, especially social media,” said John Fiore, an SU sophomore. “If (candidates) can reach their audience on platforms like TikTok or Twitter, why wouldn’t they use it?”
Now more than ever, social media is intertwined with politics and voting. Between candidate-targeted advertisements and widespread circulation of false information, social media has become a hub of voting conversations, especially among young voters.
One in three tweets across the platform this year are related to politics, according to a study from the Pew Research Center. And as Election Day approaches, the center found that candidates’ tweets have leaned more toward attacking their opponents.
Social media has long been used as a voting and political tool, said Regina Luttrell, a public relations professor at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Its main purpose was education — who the candidates were and what they stood for — and getting the word out about voting resources.
But social media, specifically when posts or videos go viral, now plays a large role in the spread of disinformation and misinformation, Lutrell said.
“What’s worse is that most social media platforms today fuel discord through algorithms, taking a very hands-off and ‘not my responsibility’ approach to mitigating the harm,” Luttrell said.
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The ability to post without any repercussions on social media also leads to performative activism, said Janice Choi, the president of the SU chapter of Democracy Matters, a national organization that focuses on getting more college students to vote. Choi said that often people show support for political movements on their social media, but rarely follow through with concrete action.
“Social media is where everyone loves to post their pretty infographics,” Choi said. “But there’s a difference between reposting something on your story and actually going and doing something to follow it up.”
She said that as social media continues to boom, politicians are more concerned about protecting their image than the issues they are posting about. This trend leads to an increase of political polarization on social media, Choi said. According to Pew Research, only 0.3% of tweets from Democratic candidates and just 0.1% of Republican candidates mention bi-partisanship.
But social media can also be a resource during election season. Sophomore Alexa LaMalfa recognized that a candidate’s social media accounts are a direct line to what’s important to them, which influences her voting decisions. But with the high risk of false or misleading information on social media, LaMalfa also visits candidates’ websites to inform her choices.
Freshman Karina Babcock takes a similar approach educating herself before voting. While she personally finds a lot of value in social media as an information resource, she consumes it critically. She researches anything she sees on TikTok, Snapchat or Instagram separately through other credible sources.
“I think it’s the user’s responsibility to use media literacy to filter their feed and fact check or second source what raises eyebrows,” Babcock said.
But according to another study from Pew Research, only 25% of politically active users say they follow people on Twitter that have political opinions different from their own.
Many candidates now use social media as a part of campaigning. Running for any office is costly, but in most cases, the use of social media platforms is free. Babcock sees candidates’ presence on social media as an obvious, strategic choice.
“Regardless of affiliation, I think candidates are missing out by not using social media, as a large population of new voter turnout and even the older generations spend a lot of time on these platforms,” Babcock said.
Users have become increasingly comfortable voicing their opinions on social media, and to sophomore Lauren Wiertel, this has pushed voters further to the right or left and galvanized them to show up at the polls.
Influencers — people who don’t have any real ethos concerning elections or voting — play a large role in motivating people to vote, Wiertel said. She’s seen politics in every corner of her social media feeds, a large change from years’ past. Wiertel even heard the host of the comedy and relationship advice podcast, “Call Her Daddy,” encouraging listeners to go vote.
But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Wiertel said, because it still informs voters of their options.
“As a college student, you don’t really have time to fully go and read all these articles on the New York Times and have this broad sense of a political understanding,” she said. “Having these influencers that are posting certain things about different political issues, it intrigues me.”
The competing forces within social media make navigating the upcoming elections all the more difficult, said sophomore John Hepp. And Luttrell said she doesn’t expect any change from the current social media trends going into the next election cycle.
“This shift (in social media usage) has truly created a threat to our democratic process, putting into question the legitimacy of our elections,” Luttrell said.
Published on November 7, 2022 at 11:09 pm