Social media has become the leading platform for voters to receive news regarding the election, according to students
In the 2016 presidential election, thousands of votes were attributed to the influence of social media. In the 2020 election, social media continued to be one the most widely used platforms for voters to gain information about presidential candidates.
Fourth-year political science major Sasha Feuerstein explained that social media may have influenced many young voters who were participating in the election for the first time.
“I remember, right after the election, I was looking at all the different stats on voter turnout, and for this particular election there was a crazy amount of mobilization for the historically least-active voter base, which is 18 to 22,” Feuerstein said. “I think the turnout for that age group was almost double of what it was in 2016, and there were a lot more people who voted for the first time. And also people ages 18-22 have the largest social media presence, so I think there is definitely a correlation there.”
According to Feuerstein, 2020 was a very “vocal social media year” that has never been seen before.
“In 2016, we still had the same social media platforms,” Feuerstein said. “But the use of social media back then was nothing like we have seen in 2020. Now, everyone you follow and interact with on social media [is] trying to mobilize people by posting things about voter information, how to register and where to drop off ballots.”
Third-year political science major Gracy Joslin stated that in addition to social media’s influence on the 2020 election, it has also served as a means of communication and receiving news in her family.
“I think media usage played a huge role in the 2020 election as well, especially for the Trump campaign since no outlet wanted to give him broadcast time as it could delegitimize their outlet,” Joslin said. “In general though, and having grown up in a politically polarized family, we have always tried to influence each other’s opinions especially through social media. Social media also [makes it] easier [to find] topics you are looking for instead of watching the news all day; something many of us don’t have the time to do.”
Fourth-year international relations major Manasa Gogineni discussed how social media usage has increased in part due to COVID-19.
“I think that people use social media for news more than they ever have before,” Gogineni said. “Because of COVID-19, people don’t have in-person work or school as normal forms of social interaction, and I think people are starting to use social media to break this social disconnect.”
Gogineni discussed how social media platforms have become a way for people to interact during a time of social distancing.
“Social media has become a more normalized way of receiving and sharing information,” Gogineni said. “It has not only become a way for people to stay in touch with their friends, but it’s also a broader way for people to connect with their community, especially during the pandemic. I don’t really see us going back to using social media the way we might have pre-COVID or in the 2016 election.”
Feuerstein detailed how social media has contributed to the spread of fake news, particularly during the election.
“One of the drawbacks of the large influence of social media is how it can easily spread misinformation,” Feuerstein said. “With election news especially, there’s ways that people can manipulate videos to make candidates look worse or favorable and spread rumors—or even build up on the stereotypes of a candidate. And I think that is something that both parties do and supporters also play a role in.”
In the 2020 election, social media platforms created algorithms to detect and censor misinformation in an attempt to prevent fake news from being spread. Feuerstein stated, however, that controlling information is easier said than done.
“A lot of these platforms are kind of mitigating the spread of misinformation, but it’s still hard to control,” Feuerstein said. “Twitter and Facebook have things in place to address misinformation, and they censor things too, like Trump’s accounts getting suspended recently. But you can’t censor everything and catch every piece of fake news before it spreads. It’s crazy to think how quickly things can spread after just one post goes viral.”
Gogineni said that, for her, social media is an untrustworthy news source.
“I don’t think that social media is the best source of accurate information,” Gogineni said. “Social media often makes it harder to find accurate information and it’s much easier to come across misinformation. Also, now a lot of these platforms have algorithms in place that recommend content based on what you interact with more. So in that sense, you are likely to come across content that aligns with your values and that takes away from the greater perspective people should be getting from the news.”
During the election, social media helped political parties gain traction and contribute to the polarization of political parties in the U.S., according to Gogineni.
“I think social media has played a big role in polarization, but at the same time it’s not like polarization has only existed on social media,” Gogineni said. “People can voice their opinions more readily on social media and we can look at things like Twitter memes of Ted Cruz. In some way, that is how people gain awareness on political issues. With this past election, we saw young voters especially use things like memes to advocate for a particular candidate or party.”
According to Joslin, social media has had a great impact on the polarization between the two political parties.
“Growing up, I was told that it was inappropriate to talk or ask someone about their party identification, but that norm has clearly changed a lot,” Joslin said. “Social media has increased the amount of political content, regardless [of] if the sources are valid or not, and I believe it has heightened polarization between candidates and their followers. Most of the people I connect with on different platforms are vocal and expressive when it comes to political beliefs.”
Supporters for both the Democrat and Republican parties have been using social media platforms to garner support for causes. Feuerstein explained how these platforms have been used to discuss opposing views.
“The days leading up to the election, I saw so many people put out statements or promotions on their Instagram stories in support of a candidate,” Feuerstein said. “Social media makes getting your opinion out there so easy, and it’s also become this platform of discourse. I think that has also made a contribution to the polarization we have seen.”
Feuerstein noted that social media has become an incredibly accessible way for people to receive their news.
“I think social media is going to continue to influence election turnouts on a larger scale,” Feuerstein said. “People in politics and the news are going to continue to use these platforms to reach more people, especially younger people.”
Feuerstein cited Snapchat to be her go-to social media news source.
“I personally like to watch those Snapchat subscriptions, and I always watch the Stay Tuned NBC stories,” Feuerstein said. “I like using [Stay Tuned NBC] because they have little clips of national and global news and it helps me stay informed, and the information is fast and accessible.”
Feuerstein encourages people to get their news from multiple sources in order to gain a greater perspective on world and national politics.
“Every source has a little bias,” Feuerstein said. “I think the smartest thing to do is check out multiple sources and even read ones that you don’t agree with. A lot of these traditional media outlets like Fox News and The New York Times take really clear sides, but I think social media is kind of more in the middle because you can get both sides at once on your feed.”
Joslin echoed Feuerstein’s beliefs on the validity of social media news, emphasizing the importance of being wary of the sources one receives news from.
“I think it is important to always be skeptical of what you read because you can frame almost anything to aid your preexisting beliefs or what you think your audience wants to hear,” Joslin said. “With traditional media, people will tune into the station that aligns with their party ideologies. With social media, it’s very similar because people will follow accounts that they feel they can relate to and believe.”
Feuerstein said that she believes the influence of social media will continue to grow in future elections.
“I think social media is definitely going to play a big role in future elections,” Feuerstein said. “Now that we have seen the effects from the 2020 election and we know how important it is to have a call to action, I think that’s going to keep happening the more divisive people are in politics.”
Written by Sneha Ramachandran — [email protected]