For most of us, the internet drives our daily lives, and now, that includes our political participation. At any given time, we are a few clicks away from engaging with fellow constituents and legislatures.
The effects of social media on politics are vast and changing as platforms emerge, grow and adapt. Younger generations, such as Millenials and Generation Z, are more likely to be regular users with a higher literacy than older generations. Social media reinforces people’s interests through algorithms and introduces users to related content. Therefore, young people who express an interest in politics through their social media platforms are likely to see more political content in their feeds. Users who do not express a particular interest in politics, will likely not see this type of information. Nonetheless, young users who are politically engaged, rely on their use of social media as political participation.
Remhai Menelik created and runs the Instagram account PeaceInTigray. The 28-year-old started this account late last year at the start of the war between Ethiopia and Tigray. She saw this as an opportunity to make people aware of the humanitarian crisis in the region. Under each post, there are links to where the information comes from as a way to prevent the spread of misinformation and to give readers the chance to trace where the account’s information is sourced.
“I reached out to a cousin who lives in Ethiopia and he recommended that I start an Instagram,” said Menelik. “I have been using social media for a very long time so I know the nature of advocacy and discussing conflict online”.
The millennial has a personal incentive for starting the account. She is of Tigrayan descent, has spent a few years working there, and has a sister still living in the area. For her, it is paramount that people are made aware of what is happening to protect her family. This is where her social media use counts as her political participation.
Instead of writing to her representatives, Menelik decided to use the voice and popularity of social media to amplify her cause. Her posts are bound to gain traction with those already interested in the topic and spread as her stories and feed posts are shared. Users interacting with the content will inevitably be introduced to similar political posts. Reading and sharing a post online is a lot quicker than attending a rally or showing up to a politician’s office. For many young people, social media engagement takes the place of events that older generations consider to be their political participation.
Of course, this is not always the case. The Black Lives Matter movement had a heavy online presence that brought together millions of people across the nation in peaceful protests. In this case, social media engagement translated into traditional acts of political participation along with millions of more people reposting infographics for the cause. One study cites the role of social media as a source of real change for the movement.
As social media integrates its way into our lives, we find the new roles it plays. For young people, it doubles as political participation because of the way users can spread information. More traditional forms of political participation include voting, contacting public officials, and volunteering for a cause. Posting on social media can be seen as volunteering time because of the time it takes to create posts, in Menelik’s case. Contacting public officials can also be done through social media as many legislatures use the platforms to build and maintain a relationship with their constituency. Voting can not be simulated through online engagement but can be turned into a cause that may translate into real change like in the case of the Black Lives Matter movement. Understanding the role of social media in politics is integral in understanding the generational change in political participation.
This is a very interesting piece, as the role that social media plays in people’s lives nowadays is highly discussed. I agree that in posting and sharing information about important issues should be considered political participation and the trend has definitely increased in the past few years. However, it is important to also note the negative side of how much we rely on social media for news, whether it be political or not. The main issue is how easy it is to spread fake news on these platforms, and how much more likely people are to believe in what they read, especially when they see a friend of theirs sharing a post. An example on the dangers of social media would be how during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, a study found that more than 50% of the posts made on Instagram on the topic were actually posted by bots. Though we cannot be certain which individuals or groups were behind making these bots and having them spread fake news or information, the fact is still that in the wrong hands, social media could be used to cause devastating effects and conflict amongst users.
Hello Savanna. I find your post interesting, particularly because it touches on the impact of social media on politics. And you are right when you mention that these platforms have more impact on the youth than older generations. Especially because young people have a good mastery of new technology. And with this generation, it helps to draw attention to certain cases and reach a greater audience. Although he can help to change some situations, depending on the country positive results is not a guarantee. Especially in countries where the State have total control of the information. They can use this platforms to spread misinformation and influence the International community’s opinion.
Social Media impacts the daily lives of many individuals. Business owners rely on it, Hiring managers rely on it and regular individuals rely on it too for entertainment and especially for our daily news. Most people are steering away from cable and therefore do no have accessibility to major news sites without a cost most times. This would force us to rely on our phones for news. I am a part of the group that checks their instagram for the latest news and politics are always included in my news feed. It should be considered political participation but the scary thing is that it’s also been used to spread mis and disinformation on political actions. This was a very interesting and accurate piece.
Hi Savana, I really enjoyed your post for many reasons. However, the main reason was that it focused on the positives of social media and politics/political engagement. We are so used to hearing about the negative impacts these platforms have on us (as we have learned throughout this course) for a variety of reasons whether it be misinformation, hateful language, harmful effects on youth, etc. In our class just yesterday we discussed how hateful and racist content spreads on TikTok. We have also discussed how Facebook and Twitter have had the opportunities to combat misinformation and disinformation (which are extremely harmful to the principles of democracy) and have yet to do the necessary amount of work to control it. I wonder if you and others think there is enough political power of youth on social media to combat the spread of hate speech, misinformation, etc. to make social media a positive place for political engagement?
But enough with the negativity. As you stated, there is so much positivity in social media as well. I remember vividly in the summer of 2020 after the murder of George Floyd, how many resources were shared on Instagram. My peers and I were able to engage with anti-racist readings, donate to bail funds, and sign petitions. I wonder if these resources would have been as widely available without the use of social media?
Even in the most recent Boston Mayoral election, I witnessed a multitude of my peers actively participating online (particularly for Mayor Wu). I myself was able to participate by attending virtual events, spreading resources, donating, etc. all from things I had seen on social media. I think you make a great point in your blog that we should not claim that social media is all bad as there are some benefits, but we certainly have to be careful.