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Social Media's Effect on Voting

During these trying times, people have been turning to social platforms in order to stay connected. So much, in fact, that Mark Zuckerberg has reported that over 3 million people have been using apps such Instagram and Facebook in a single month. In recent years, social media has served as another way to communicate with a variety of people and has contributed in the campaigns of politicians, most notably in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. In this article, we will discuss the question: how did social media play a role in voting this year?


Early Voting


Besides the differentiating political views between the two candidates, what seemed to be most unique about this election was its overall voter turnout. A study done in 2012 has shown that social networks could have some effect on voter turnout, and that a special “make sure you go and vote” message helped rake in 340,000 votes. The purpose of the research was to show that social media can have a great effect on elections. However, researchers from Facebook and the University of California found that this effect was limited to people with closer relationships, such as friends and family rather than more distant people in cyberspace.


(Image is courtesy of Courier Newsroom)


But this did not stop others who are of voting age to take to platforms such as TikTok and Instagram to encourage others to vote early. A website called Headcount has been used to get Americans to vote by providing voting info and locations to the nearest polls. This year, however, there was a lot of emphasis on early votingso much so that Americans were reported to be waiting in line for hours.


Focusing More on Issues


The BlackLivesMatter movement and COVID-19 were crucial topics during this election. After the death of George Floyd in May, Americans were quick to take to social media to spread awareness of the injustice he faced. Since the pandemic made it difficult for others to turn away from social media, it didn’t take long for non-Americans to learn of this issue. People provided resources to educate those about systemic racism in America, and how to be a better ally to the Black community.


Throughout the early months of the pandemic, people on social media have been informing others to practice social distancing and wash their hands often in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus. Messages of positivity and support have also been shared throughout the pandemic. Both of these topics have been promoted through social platforms, and this has garnered more voters who are Black and Hispanic, as well as increased overall voter turnout.


Tracking Misinformation


Facebook and Twitter tracked inaccuracies spread during the election by following influential people such as famous users. They would also have been required to check over the candidates' feeds in case they choose to undermine the electoral process. An attempt made to undermine mail-in voting by Donald Trump, for example, has been caught by the two platforms. Twitter made sure the post couldn’t be seen by restricting it and labelling it as misleading. Facebook commented under the post and reassured others that mail-in voting can, in fact, be trusted.


(Image is courtesy of Farmhouse Creative)


The Importance of Voting


One lesson that others should take from this election is that your vote matters! This should be very apparent given this year's candidates' very different takes on topics, including the handling of the pandemic. Whoever is in power as a leader decides on policies that may affect others in the long run, and it is our responsibility to ensure capable people possess that power.


References:


Brownstein, R. (2019, June 13). Brace for a Voter-Turnout Tsunami. Retrieved November 08,

2020, from https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2019/06/2020-election-voter-

turnout-could-be-record-breaking/591607/

Lee, H. (2020). Voters’ involvement, attitude, and confidence in the era of new media. Palgrave

Communications, 6(1). doi:10.1057/s41599-019-0368-9

Markoff, J. (2012, September 12). Social Networks Can Affect Voter Turnout, Study Says.

Retrieved November 08, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/13/us/politics/soc

ial-networks-affect-voter-turnout-study-finds.html

Social media companies watching for election misinformation. (2020). Retrieved November 08,

2020, from https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1814962755930



Article Author: Idil Gure

Article Editors: Victoria Huang, Sherilyn Wen