Social media has become an essential tool for influencing public opinion and political participation, particularly in the 2016 presidential election. Social media has given candidates the opportunity to reach out to a larger pool of voters, who are able to access information about their campaigns 24/7. Candidates have incorporated social media into their campaign strategies as a tool to reach out to young voters in particular. A study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 61% of millennials claim to get their political news from social media platforms, and as a result, candidates are posting on social media more than ever before. Social media has become a tool not only for candidates, but for the public as well, because it has provided them with a platform to receive political information and engage in a conversations about the election. While it may seem as though this increased political participation through social media is a good thing, politics in social media does have some negative impacts.
One criticism of politics in social media is that it perpetuates and popularizes narrow opinions. A study conducted at Emerson College found that although social media provides the public with an opportunity to access different political opinions, social media users have the tendency to immerse themselves in online environments where their political opinions are constantly being reinforced. Another criticism of politics in social media is that it “brings an increased risk of digesting information from questionable sources” (Curry, 2016). Daniel Kahneman, renowned American psychologist, presents a case against politics in social media. Kahnemen claims that human beings have a tendency to acquire different ideas throughout their lifetimes and establish opinions from those ideas, without remembering where the ideas came from. This is problematic in regards to social media platforms, because people will establish opinions based upon ideas and opinions they acquire through individuals they follow on social media, and often fail to distinguish between those ideas and ideas they receive from legitimate sources. This means that social media potentially perpetuates the distribution of false information, and in turn, manipulates votes and election outcomes.
Some argue that politics in social media is problematic because social media favors emotionalism. The concern is that the public is focusing more on the drama between candidates rather than the issues at hand. One article published by Politico Magazine argues that the most successful social media stories are those intended to provoke, rather than inform, suggesting that this is the reason Trump has been so successful across several social media platforms. Another criticism of politics in social media is that social media perpetuates negative rhetoric, on the behalf of the candidates as well as the public. According to a study conducted by the Wesleyan Media Project, 53% of political ads aired in the month of September were negative. Some argue that social media has allowed “negative, frequently deceptive, and often fallacious examples of campaign rhetoric that would have gained little traction in the journalistic avenues of traditional media” to be brought to the forefront of political news (Das Sarma, 2016). Brian Solis, principle analyst from the Altimeter Group, claims that the public has not learned how to be civil on social media platforms, and instead use social media networks to impose perspectives in ways that are divisive and unproductive.
“Election 2016: Campaigns as a Direct Source of News,” Journalism.org, July 18, 2016, http://pewrsr.ch/2e4DMLO. Accessed 2 October 2016.
Curry, Kevin. “More and more people get their news via social media. Is that good or bad?” Washington Post, September 30, 2016, http://wapo.st/2ejPctX. Accessed 2 October 2016.
Das Sarma, Matthew. “Tweeting 2016: How Social Media is Shaping the Presidential Election,” Inquiries Journal, 2016, http://bit.ly/2e6p5dW. Accessed 10 October 2016.
Gegen, Anna. “Social media plays more important role in 2016 election,” The State Journal-Register, 29 August 2016, http://bit.ly/2e6pm0a. Accessed 10 October 2016.
McCabe, David. “Welcome to the social media election,” The Hill, modified 17 August 2015, http://bit.ly/2efQBDH. Accessed 10 October 2016.
Kapko, Matt. “How social media is shaping the 2016 presidential election,”CIO, 29 September 2016. http://bit.ly/2egipGN. Accessed 10 October 2016.
“Negative political ads and their effect on voters: Updated collection of research,” journalistsresource.org, 25 September 2016. http://bit.ly/2dz3l73. Accessed 12 October 2016.
Carr, Nicholas. “How Social Media is Ruining Politics,” Politico Magazine, 2 September 2016, http://politi.co/2dz2TWG. Accessed 12 October 2016.
Caroline Hassara (University of Vermont)
Senior at the University of Vermont with an interest politics, media, and all things outdoors #skitheeast
Rob Williams, Ph.D. (University of Vermont)
Professor of Media/Communication