Politics in Social Media
October 22, 2016
“Bernie or Hillary? Be informed. Compare them on issues that matter,” the graphic reads. The issue at hand is “Starbucks Order” — Senator Bernie Sanders “make[s] his own damn coffee,” while Hillary Clinton orders a “grande decaf with soy latte, seven pump vanilla, seven pump hazelnut, 180 degrees, no foam, add whip white mocha, extra caramel drizzle.”
One would hope that young people recognize this as hyperbole. Either way, young people are increasingly utilizing social media as a source of news and to communicate their political opinions. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 35 percent of young voters use social media as their main source of information on the election, while older voters rely mainly on TV and news sites.
The shift from traditional print and web media to more interactive news sources can create echo chambers as modern social media sites provide users with more opportunities to interact with each other and share content. The study “Echo Chambers on Facebook” by researchers Walter Quattrociocchi, Antonio Scala and Cass Sunstein found that people belonging to different “communities” on Facebook rarely interact. People only share information they agree with, deliberately seeking out information that supports their views.
Not only do young people consume media differently, they’re also becoming more liberal. According to statistics by Gallup, young voters tend to identify more as Democrats, while voters over the age of 69 identify as mostly Republican. Thus, for Democratic politicians especially, the question of how to connect with young people has become paramount.
According to a Genforward poll, Clinton has garnered only tepid support from young voters. This trend has been reflected in memes such as “Bernie or Hillary,” which portray her as an out-of-touch drone juxtaposed with Sanders’ common-man relatability. In an effort to connect with younger generations, Clinton has sought to bolster her standing through increased social media presence and celebrity engagements.
Donald Trump, on the other hand, has used social media to aggressively promote his message from the start, even going so far as to retweet memes of himself that he finds amusing or agrees with. His Twitter and Facebook pages have become critical platforms to channel his supporters’ enthusiasm.
Although Trump’s antics garner significant media attention, they often backfire on his campaign. His social media use has increasingly brought him under fire, leading to a question in the second presidential debate about his late-night tweeting. No topic is too controversial for Trump — he tweets his unfiltered views on everything from global warming to ISIS. He even periodically exposes himself to criticism by passing on messages from white nationalists or other fringe accounts.
While it’s hard to say whether social media has a significant impact on the outcome of the election, it has become firmly entrenched in almost every discussion. It is no longer possible to talk about politics without mentioning what the candidates have posted on their various Twitter and Facebook accounts, discussing the latest social media scandal or tracking which issues are trending. The pull of the internet on political discourse isn’t going away, and the only question remaining is how the media — and the candidates themselves — will choose to adapt.