Social Media’s Influence on the 2016 Election

DISCLAIMER: This article has nothing to do with political party preferences.  

Social media is very different now than it was in 2012 when Obama was elected. Even though he is credited as our “first social media president,” it’s safe to say this was our first social media election.

Social media has undoubtedly become a huge part of our everyday lives, so it should come as no surprise that when election season was in full swing, social media channels reflected that.

I was never very interested in politics. I didn’t vote in 2012, simply because I didn’t think I was informed enough to make a decision. However, during this election, I felt as if I was constantly having political opinions and “facts” shoved down my throat on every social networking platform. Because I suddenly found myself in the middle of a social political extravaganza, I decided to do some research. I read the trending stories on Facebook and Twitter, and then did additional research on my own as well.

After taking the time to inform myself, I learned not everything I read on social media was true (shocker). By weeding through fact and fiction, I was able to better understand my friends’ posts in my feed, and when election day came around, I felt confident in my informed decision.

Unfortunately, a lot of people cite social media as their primary source of news. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly half of  U.S. adults get news on Facebook. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, simply because of how convenient it is. You log on, check your notifications, see what your friends are up to, and read the trending news stories. Easy.

While social media is an amazing tool for news, it’s also one that needs to be handled with caution. We live in a modern age of journalism where a journalist doesn’t have to be an official news reporter – he or she can be a normal, everyday citizen just like you and me. This is both a blessing and a curse. As receptors of this information, we have to be extremely aware of content that is reliable, and content that is fabricated or exaggerated for popularity.  social-2016-trump-hil

I’m not here to say that social media is to blame since it provided the American public with fake facts about the election, because that is not entirely true. Sure, there were some posts containing “facts” that weren’t correct, but misinformation and viral fake news happens every day online. What I am saying is that many people didn’t explore additional information regarding the candidates outside of their Facebook news feed or Twitter timeline where this “fake” news was living. This created a huge issue. People didn’t feel like they had to search for the facts because they felt as if the information they received on their social networks was more than enough – many times TOO much. In the days leading up to November 8th, my entire feed was filled with my friends’ political opinions, and the trending stories were all about the election as well. Definitely a bit overwhelming.

Overall, many of the trending election topics on social lacked substance regarding political policies and plans for the future. Instead, a majority of the posts on social media regarding the election were “he said / she said” posts intended to frame the presidential candidates in a negative way.

How is anyone supposed to make an informed decision about the candidate’s political agendas when the stories trending on Facebook and Twitter revolved around making the other person look bad?

It just doesn’t add up.

I consider social media a blessing; after all, it has enabled us to be more connected than ever before. However, this connectedness also comes with responsibility. Social media is here to stay, so it’s important that in future elections we find a better way to use it. Childish, accusatory conversations based on limited knowledge will get us absolutely nowhere, and I’ve found that that’s where we seem to be stuck today. We need to inform ourselves outside of these social platforms so that we’re able to have mature, adult conversations on them if we so choose.

Social media undoubtedly influenced this election, and I believe that it will continue to influence future elections as well. Fortunately, how we choose to let it influence our individual decisions is in our own hands.

 

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