Social media is overwhelmed with election posts, but they are not changing most voters’ minds

By Lauren Patetta

Throughout the 2020 election season, social media has been inundated with political issue posts, campaign ads and constant encouragements to get out and vote. But despite the host of political content online, the most Americans are not swayed by what they see.

“I don’t think (social media) are really impacting how I’m going to vote,” said Haley Epping, a senior at American University. “But I think I’m learning more about how other people are seeing this election and like, what it means to them.”

Even though encouraging others to vote on social media may increase voter turnout, talking about political issues online has little effect on how others think about them. A Pew Research Center study found that 76 percent of Americans have not changed their views on political issues because of the content they encounter on social media. This number is down from 2018, but still represented over three-quarters of Americans.

Ella Ziel, a sophomore at Converse College, said this may be because people follow the lead that their parents and friends set, without conducting their own research.

“There’s definitely a very big divide between people, like, who are really politically educated or interested, and then people who are just kind of regurgitating (information),” Ziel said.

Hannah Wilkinson, a nursing student at Saint Elizabeth University, attributed the lack of changed minds to social media itself.  

“I think it’s because of how our phones and our, like, streaming history impacts what we see,” she said. “I support Biden… so I’m mostly just seeing Biden’s things that go against Trump.”  

Social media algorithms feed users content they are predisposed to like based on previous online interactions, which in turn forms echo chambers. When in an online echo chamber, social media users are only exposed to content they agree with as a way for the platform to increase user engagement. Another factor that can influence echo chambers is that people tend to follow others who share their same viewpoint.

“On Instagram, which is pretty much just personal friends, I see them posting… a lot of random Biden tweet and a lot of Trump criticism,” Ziel said. “And then I also follow a couple of organizations like my local Black Lives Matter and the Indigenous Youth Council.”

“I think a lot of times, I’m in a little leftist bubble,” Epping said. “And I forget that, like, there are still a lot of Trump supporters out there.”

Misinformation has been a major issue on social media this election season, and echo chambers have also helped create environments where it spreads rapidly. AP News reported in recently that many social media accounts have posted inaccurate information about voter fraud and ballot tampering. Though Wilkinson, Ziel and Epping all said they have not encountered much misinformation in their own bubbles, but that could be because their circles are predominantly liberal. According to a different study from Pew, Republican voters are more likely than Democratic voters to believe and spread Trump’s false claims about voter fraud, which has been a major talking point in this election.

Outside of platforms like Twitter and Facebook, there’s also been a large amount of campaign advertisements on YouTube and television. North Carolina alone saw 7,000 campaign ads broadcast in just one day. The Los Angeles Times found that candidates running for state, local and national office collectively spent $7.8 billion on digital advertising across the country.

“I absolutely got a ton of local ads about Malinowski and Kean,” Wilkinson said, referencing the two candidates running for the House of Representatives in her New Jersey district. “I was seeing that more than Trump and Biden, to be honest.”

South Carolina held a particularly contentious race this year, with Democratic candidate Jaime Harrison trying to unseat Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has been on the Senate since 2002. Ziel lives in South Carolina and said that she encountered many ads from both sides.

“I probably see slightly more pro-Jaime Harrison ads than pro-Lindsey Graham ads, but definitely see just a lot from both,” she said.

Some have started to get annoyed by the constant presence of election content on their social media feeds and before their videos.

“I know this is terrible, but I’m personally sick of people being, like, go vote,” said Epping, “because I personally don’t think voting is going to solve everything or every problem that we have.”

“I understand why they’re posting these things about Biden being so presidential,” Wilkinson said, “but me as the person who’s going to vote for him regardless…  it was a little bit frustrating.”

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