Social networking is a type of electronic communication portal that enables users to communicate with one another and exchange ideas and thoughts by building online platforms. It is a channel for group feedback. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Linkedin are the most prominent social media platforms. According to a Pew Research Centre survey conducted on the entire American population in March 2016, 68 percent of all adults use Facebook, while 26 percent use Pinterest, 25 percent use Linkedin, 21 percent use Twitter, and 28 percent use Instagram. During votes, adult electors come forward to exercise their political rights by voting for their preferred candidates. From the statistics recorded by Pew Research Centre, any information transmitted through social media channels regarding elections reaches a significant percentage of the voters. This article shall discuss the impact of social media on elections.
In politics, especially during campaigns, the opinions communicated based on candidates directly influences the stand of the people. In the early days, any information printed on newspapers or aired on the radio was thoroughly researched, and if found to be true, it would then be published to the public (Bryan, 2013). As a result, any information regarding politics in the articles was credible. However, in the present day, social media allows democracy of users is exchanging their opinions whether true or false.
The false information includes fake news, rumors, and conspiracies. Fake news is mostly compiled for an ideological purpose, where websites pass misleading information to favor the candidates they want. A good example was in the 2006 election when a 26-year-old Romanian man, claimed of running a website that channeled pro-Trump fake news, took the responsibility of passing the information to the social media users for Donald Trump to beat Hilary Clinton. As a result of the false news, voters who full depend on the information passed on social media end up making conclusions and changing their choice of candidates. The end game is the voters choosing candidates who were not fit for the office which causes governance problems in future.
The other impact of social media on the election is the channels acting as an echo-chamber for like-minded voters. Social media is a platform aimed at connecting people with similar ideas, opinions, and interests. For example in Facebook, an individual’s profile relates to the user’s personal beliefs which relate to the timeline which is comprised of people who share the same beliefs as the user. During the election period, social media users form groups based on the candidates they support. In the groups, the users criticize, ridicule or strongly agree to the information communicated based on individual candidates. The opinion of the majority frequently affects the decision and stand of the minority (Perse &Lambe, 2016). As a result, when a social media user has a negative opinion based on a candidate, the negative view of the majority echoes it back. The result is confirmatory of bias in the individual, which leads to a complete shift from the reality. The change establishes new beliefs in the individual which affects the results of the election.
The echo chamber formed by different views in election creates a divide in the society.Sparks (2015) wrote,” society is divided by lack of eagerness to people to associate with individuals who hold different opinions” During the election period, some of a user’s friends or followers in social media take different stands in the candidates they want. The users may post photos criticizing your candidate which may feel offensive. The offended party, as a result, may block or un-friend the offending parties using security features created by the various social media sites. A communication gap is established between the two sides which prevents the exchange of ideas or opinions.
Another crucial impact of social media in elections is its impact on polls. Polls are straightforward and short surveys taken by different parties to predict the dominance of candidates where they predict the likely winner. The accuracy of all polls is determined by random sampling. The technique gives everyone an equal chance of being selected to participate. In social media, these surveys are conducted too. However, these polls are inaccurate since their record responses from the users rather than that of the general population. The inaccuracy in the results leads to different results in polls from various social media platforms which therefore confuse the voters. Voters end up with wrong predictions such as; their candidates stand no chance of winning the elections, so they end up not voting or voting for other candidates
In conclusion, technology is an ever-changing aspect of our modern world. In future, more advancement shall have occurred on social media platforms. The new platform shall cause entirely new or evolved impacts on the election’s system. The changes shall be more influential than they already are. The polling systems may become more accurate leading to better predictions, or the social media sites may have developed new strategies for ensuring there is no divide in the society; which shall guarantee its purpose of bringing people together is preserved. It will be interesting to watch how social media influences elections in future.
Bryan, R. M. (2013). Status update: The effect of social media on voter participation. State University of New York at Buffalo.
Perse, E. M., & Lambe, J. (2016). Media effects and society. Routledge.
Sparks, G. G. (2015). Media Effects Research: A Basic Overview. Cengage Learning.