The impact of Social Media on politics never felt so real than on the Presidential election of 2016. In fact, Patrick Ruffini, in a recent article, stated that “this election cycle is the first I’ve seen where candidates realize social media as their direct pipeline into the mainstream media coverage and to voters.”
Even though the elections of both 2008 and 2012 have claimed to be the first social media presidential election- analysis of this election has proven otherwise.
Analysis of this year’s election demonstrates how the role of social media has changed since the last election in 2012. Frank Speiser, states that this is the “first true social media election.” He goes on to further states that “before it was an auxiliary method for communication. But now, candidates can put messages out their and get folks on social media to act on your behalf by just sharing it around.” Furthermore, in a study completed by Pew Research Center, a majority of those 18-29, said “social media is the most helpful means of learning new things about politics. Because of the prevalence of both messages, communication, and the shear population on social media sites, these types of platforms play a critical role in the election.” These quotes exemplify the importance and impact of social media in modern day politics.
Why did this happen?
- Social Media as a News Source
One reason why social media has been so pivotal in the election of 2016 is due to the fact that so many people leverage Facebook and other social media sites to receive news. These sites are becoming more popular as a news outlet as compared to a site for personal information. In fact, 44 percent of the United States population receive their news from these types of sites. This is critical when Facebook has nearly 1.6B monthly active users- a number up 60 % from the last election in 2012. Furthermore, more people “than ever get their news mainly from social network sites.” Because social media users are now utilizing social media sites for real news, it is important that these sites ensure that the news stories are correct and accurate.
- Fake News
As mentioned above, social media users leverage these sites as a popular news source; however, sometimes these news articles are not true. In fact, many critics have “urged tech companies to try to prevent the spread of misinformation, which critics say hurt political discourse and sharpen divisions among American voters.” Furthermore, because of network effects and growing popularity of these sites, even fake news stories grow in popularity quickly and very widespread. Often this happens without any fact checking.
One social media site taking much of the heat for the results of this election is Facebook. Since the election on Tuesday, November 7th, there have been numerous articles about how “Facebook” may have impacted the results and how people chose to vote. In fact, Mark Zuckerberg has come out with a statement to explain his opinion on the current situation. Facebook may have created a skewed view of the status of the election. According to this article, many people have “cited Donald Trump’s surprise victory due to the ‘fake news and memes’ which circulated social media sites. In addition, an article in the MIT Technology News, states that “critics say that by promulgating fake and misleading news, Facebook brainwashed voters into electing Donald Trump as president.”
Because of the impact of fake news, many sites are taking prohibitive steps to ensure that fake news is not allowed on their networks. Google and Facebook are two of the major sites who have come out with statements regarding steps they will take in the future to ensure that these types of stories do not make it onto their sites. In a recent article published by The Wall Street Journal, Facebook and Google “announced steps to prevent fake news from generating revenue.” In the case of Google, they will close their “advertising tools to websites that promote fake news.” Furthermore, Facebook has also made statements related to Fake news and the steps that they will take to ensure that these types of news stories do not make it to newsfeeds.
One of the key problems of Facebook, as discussed in ISYS6621, is that Facebook does a good job of only allowing you to see what you want to see and what aligns with your personal beliefs. However, the problem with this, is that it may have contributed to the hyperbolized level of success for how many people would vote for Hillary Clinton. Often times, those that we surround ourselves in the digital as well as the real world, are those who follow and have the same beliefs that we do. However, this may pose a problem- particularly when there are so many undecided voters who only see one side of the issues.
.The election of 2016 is an example of how social media changed perception of the population and impacted actions of its users. It is critical that, from this point forward, social media sites realize the potential power they have over the public. It will be necessary that these sites put into effect regulations and criteria in order to ensure that there is a balance of power and information across these sites.