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How can social media influence politics and elections in the twenty-first century? What is the effect on youth voters?

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Social media has a great ability to influence politics and elections as we proceed through the 21st century. Social media has the ability to engage people in political discussions. The number of articles dealing with the current election and dealing with important current political issues on social media sites is growing. These articles may reach people who might not otherwise follow traditional methods of receiving information. Social media allows candidates to target specific groups of people and to get their message to those groups. Social media allows candidates or the public to present information in an uncensored manner. This may allow for false and/or damaging information to be spread. The public needs to be very careful when reading these articles, watching these videos, or listening to or reading opinion pieces. Debates and discussions about politics or issues involving elections also are taking place on social media sites. This helps to engage people in political and election issues. All the candidates in this year’s presidential election are using social media sites to get their message to voters.

Social media is more likely to engage younger people. Younger people spend less time getting information from traditional sources such as from television or from newspapers than older people do. Young people spend a great deal of time on social media sites. Younger people have indicated they have participated in on-line discussions about issues surrounding the election or political issues in general. Studies suggest that the use of social media is likely to increase voter turnout.

The growing use of social media, especially among young people, suggests that social media will have a greater effect on politics and elections as we proceed through the 21st century.

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Here are several of the ways in which social media has drastically changed today’s political landscape:

  • Social media decentralizes and democratizes the spread of information and news media. In a previous era, the spread of news (and the slant of news coverage) was largely controlled by major newspapers and network television stations. Some argue that this type of control led to elite control of information, where only news and opinions acceptable to the owners of major media had the ability to influence the general public. Now, in contrast, anyone with a blog, Facebook, or Twitter profile can disseminate their own slant on the news.
  • While in some ways this democratization and decentralization of media has improved the variety of coverage and created greater potential for electoral populism, it has also led to a “bubble” effect, where the average individual getting their news from social media only receives their news from sources that are ideologically similar to their current beliefs. In this way, social media has contributed to political polarization.
  • Social media allows for the rapid rise of populist movements that are able to quickly and efficiently communicate through the internet. One example of this is the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, which has raised tens of millions of dollars through over 4,000,000 individual online contributions made possible by fundraising through social media. This type of “grass-roots” fundraising in the past would not have been able to compete with large donations from wealthy corporations and donors.
  • Social media allows political movements to mobilize and organize. From the Barack Obama campaign, to the Tea Party, to the Occupy Wall Street movement, to the Arab Spring, different movements have used social media to coordinate and disseminate their message.

I’ve attached some sources so that you can learn more; hope this helps!

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At this point, we really do not know for certain how social media will influence politics and elections in this century.  We can make some guesses, but we have not yet had very many elections during the era of social media, which means that we lack data to make firm conclusions.  Moreover, it is very difficult to separate out the impact of social media from all the other factors that help to determine how people vote in elections.

It seems likely that social media will help politics and elections become more personalized.  The era of big data and the internet has already pushed us a long way down this road, but social media can help move us even further.  Politicians try very hard to do what is called “narrowcasting.”  They try to tailor specific messages to specific people.  These messages are, they believe, the messages that will be most likely to convince those particular people.  Social media can help with this process.  Campaigns can mine people’s social media pages for information about what sorts of things those people like and dislike.  They can compare these profiles to information they already have, which allows them to make educated guesses about what sorts of appeals will work with each individual person.  They can contact those people directly through social media.  Alternatively, the can see if any of those people’s social media contacts are already supporting their candidate and they can use that information to help reach out to these potential voters.

Social media might also help broaden the electorate and bring in more young people in particular.  Younger people have historically been much less likely to vote than older people.  Social media might be able to help lure these younger people to participate in elections.  Younger people might be more responsive when campaigns use social media because social media is a newer form of communication and one that younger people are more used to using.  Young people might tune out communications that come through old-fashioned means while being more receptive to social media.

These are some potential ways in which social media might affect elections and politics in the 21st century (or at least in this part of it).  However, we have very little data about how social media affects these things and we do not even know how important social media will continue to be as we go forward in time.

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