Social Media’s Influence on Elections

by Katherine Rollings and Marshall McCann

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have become a common source for news-related information, with an increasing amount of people relying on them for news. While this makes some feel more engaged, others are suspicious about the validity of the information. Fake news, misinformation, and disinformation have become commonplace on social media, especially during recent election campaigns.

Newsfeeds were originally posted chronologically, but now content is determined by algorithms that shape user experience based on your online behaviour, with the aim of showing posts relevant to your interests and opinions. People have a natural tendency towards confirmation bias — seeking information that reinforces our personal views. This leads to the creation of ‘filter bubbles’ or ‘echo chambers’, where you are no longer exposed to information that contradicts your own. This is damaging to your own personal development, as well as for a functioning democracy.

Confirmation Bias” by Peter Dashevici. Licenced under CCO.

Political campaigns have started using a tactic called ‘microtargeting’, similar to targeted advertising where you are shown personalized ads based on your personal behaviours and demographics. Microtargeting sends specific messages to different voters, causing increasing levels of polarization. These messages include disinformation to damage a political opponent or to attempt to enable voter suppression.

Studies have shown that social media use corresponds to increased rates of voter turnout. These platforms also allow for direct interaction between citizens and politicians. People used to have to attend rallies, listen to the radio, watch the news, or read the Newspaper to connect with politicians; now, you just have to add them on Twitter or Instagram.

Sources
Sevunts, L. (2019, April 9). Canadians get news from social media but don’t trust it: poll.RCI. Retrieved April 18, 2021 from Radio Canada International.

Eisenstat, Y. (2020, June 25). How to combat online voter suppression. Retrieved April 18, 2021, from Tech Stream.

“Confirmation_bias”, by Peter Dashevici, https://www.flickr.com/photos/132324720@N02/17000936316 Licensed under CCO.