How does social media affect political participation of millennials

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Social media plays a distinguished role in today’s society, especially the lives of Millennials. The majority of Millennials use some form of social media sites and with the amount of political content on these various sites, it can influence viewers opinions more especially during election time. This generation group is a large group of adults that will have a significant impact on the political landscape in the near future.

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Since Millennials will comprise a large portion of voters in the upcoming elections, their political participation, or the lack of, will impact the outcome of the elections. There are several pros using social media as an outlet to receive political updates. Political candidates are able to interact directly with the public which allows people not to just be voters but active participants as well. Millennials constantly have their phones in their hands allowing them to get the latest information on social media. Although social media may be an outlet for people to receive political information, social media is highly used for slander and information is distorted by inaccurate and misleading facts. If social media is used correctly, there can be a positive effect on the political participation of millennial’s in the age of technology.

Social media is defined as “computer intermediated tools that allow people or companies to create, share, or exchange information, career interests, ideas, and pictures/videos in virtual groups and networks” (Wikipedia.org). Social media has turned into a rising and prevalent resource today. It is the most utilized and reasonable method for correspondence among the Millennial in today’s age of technology. As stated by Boyd and Ellison, Social Networking Sites are continuously attracting academic and numerous other industries research due to their ability to reach the public and affordability. In this way, social media is considered as one of the most successful learning gadgets which enhances relational abilities and information. Kaur and Kaur analyzed the use of social media and how it impacts people and concluded that that social media sites are found to act as a major social influence which impacts the personal lives of the users. The development and prominence of social media have made it simple for an individual to communicate with close friends or even a complete stranger. So, one can extend their social circle of friends with the use of social media.

The Millennial generation is also known as Generation Y or the generation that follows directly after Generation X. Generation Y consists of people born during 1980 and 2000. In simpler words, the people within this generation are within the age group of 18-34 years. This population is also known as the Net Generation because they have grown up with a majority of the technological advancements (Kavitha and Bhuvaneswari). According to the Harris Poll, a survey organized to indicate the usage of social media by age groups, Millennials have the most social media usage out of all of the age groups. This study indicates that sixty percent of social media usage is done by Millennials. Millennials use technology to collect data, share information and communicate with each other. Today, these new technologies help to provide flexibility in collaborative learning, stimulate creative ideas, and increase interpersonal relationships of the millennials. This approach is engaging with young people as a platform and space for activities has created a positive and negative effect (Kavitha and Bhuvaneswari). Social media has become one of the most efficient mediums for the transfer of information and knowledge across the world.

Online media, which includes Internet news, blogs, and social media networking sites, are transforming the relationship between the media and citizens. The instantaneous availability of information through smartphones enhance changes in the political debate. Although social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are not necessarily created to spread political news, they have the potential to do so. Twitter and Facebook have become instrumental in organizing campaigns. They allow voters and activists to easily share news and information such as campaign events with each other. During the 2016 Presidential campaign, Donald Trump used social media, specifically Twitter, heavily because he said it helps get his point of view out there and which is probably the main reason why he won the presidency. Political campaigns can tap into a depth of information or analytics about the people who are following them on social media and can customize their messages based on the demographics.

More than one-third of the population has a Facebook page, however, fewer than ten percent of Americans said they often followed Facebook recommendations for news. According to Winograd and Hais (2009), Millennials are also particularly adept in the use of peer-to-peer communication technologies such as Facebook, which will increasingly be used to inform and shape public opinion (p. 86). According to the American Press Institute (2015), 88 percent of Millennials get some form of news from Facebook. While this number may be encouraging, it is deceiving because less than half of Facebook-using Millennials are intentionally looking for news on the social media site (American Press Institute, 2015, para. 15). Many politicians have increasingly realized the increasing growth in the use of Facebook and took it as an opportunity to reach citizens and engage with them in the political process. Many national leaders have also turned to Twitter to reach out to supporters and raise money for their political campaigns. During his presidential candidacy, Barack Obama had his own Twitter feeds which he used for presidential and campaign purposes. Average citizens have used Twitter to spread the news. Users tweet during political rallies and used special hashtags to comment on issues such as healthcare, education, unemployment etc. Twitter is used less by Millennials, but according to Duggan (2015), 23 percent of Millennials use the platform daily for personal interests. Twitter is used more for status updates so Twitter users may be actively seeking news, compared to Facebook users. YouTube is another site that is heavily used by Millennials. The American Press Institute (2015) reports that 83 percent of Millennials use YouTube to receive news (para. 7). YouTube recently started airing political debates and also has the debates available after they are aired. Former President Barack Obama had an online town hall meeting using YouTube where he answered questions on the economy, national security etc. Seeing that the majority of Millennials use YouTube, it is a potential political news source for them and may influence their political behavior.

According to Fry (2015), there are nearly 75 million Millennials, ages 18-34, out of the roughly 322 million people in the United. Excluding the 23 percent of U.S. residents under the age of 18, there are 248 million people of voting age in the country. That means Millennials make up almost one-third of voting-aged citizens. Despite a large number of voting-age Millennials, they may not participate in informal political processes, such as voting, at rates that older generations do. According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), Millennials made up 19 percent of all voters in the 2012 primary election, with about half of all Millennials turning out to vote. Millennials did have a significant impact on that election, but the turnout in the 2012 election was less than the 2008 election which shows that Millennials overwhelmingly favored Obama. This proves that unless Millennials have a candidate that they support, it is possible they may not turn out to vote at all.

Winograd and Hais (2009) state that the Millennial Generation is larger and more ethnically diverse, as well as more technologically proficient than any generation before (p. 45).

The popularity and widespread use of Facebook and Twitter are of interest in relation to the question “how to do of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube influence Millennials’ political behavior” because it shows the significance of social media in Millennials’ daily lives. Millennials may participate in political communications or activities on social media, but the same cannot be said about their participation in formal political processes. Vivaldi (2010) writes, “There is significant disagreement in both academic and popular writing about the degrees of (dis)engagement among young adults in the U.SSome scholars holdthat there is a pervasive, and perhaps even unprecedented, culture of political apathy among young adults in the U.S.,” (p. 372). It appears that this political apathy among Millennials may still exist. Little (2009) explains that in a study, 76 percent of young people think politics are important, but only 24 percent said they had actually had an interest in them. (p. 120). He also explains that 41 percent of those surveyed did not know the difference between left and right wing politics (Little, 2009, p. 120). While this study was conducted with youth in the U.K., it is still important because it shows that political apathy is prominent amongst young people in places all over the world. The prominence of social media sites has made them an influencer in the media world. Fresno Garcia et al. (2016) explain that social media is an independent actor that has the ability to shape audience attitudes at the same level of professional, or traditional media (p. 23). Through a social media analysis, Fresno Garcia et al. (2016) identify three types of social media influencer: disseminator, engager and leader (p. 23). An influencer, who could be a politician and opinion leader, could have a substantial effect on a Millennial voter through a social media site. In other words, social media may influence Millennials more than traditional forms of media. What makes Millennials so connected to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter is their connection to technology in general. Miller (2013) states that Millennials demand constant access to technology and are able to maintain multiple technological activities at once (para. 8). This results in a constant flow of information, and a desire for more (Miller, 2013, para. 8).

While there may be a wealth of information on the internet, Miller (2013) explains that this may create a divide between Millennials and political information that is accurate and inaccurate (para. 12). The massive amount of information Millennials have access to may be a negative influence as it could limit their ability to distinguish between valid content and self-broadcasted content, meaning the information may not be true. Some argue that social media is full of fake viral news and it seems less important to know where the source derived from. Although they may have access to a great amount of information, they may not choose to consume political information, leaving them ignorant when it comes to many political matters. Botterill and Dun (2015) concur with Miller’s assessment; according to their research, Millennials use social media predominantly for entertainment or socializing (p. 537). Their research points to the notion that Millennials do not look to social media for political information. However, recently that may be changing, as there is an increasing amount of political content on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. It seems that Millennials tend to focus less on traditional media. Mindich (2005) explains that this decline in traditional media consumption has produced a generation of adults who barely have an outline of what they need to make an informed decision when voting (p. 9). Political messages communicated through social media often do not contain adequate information to inform a potential voter. Many times, they are shared from an opinionated or illegitimate news source. This shift from traditional media to new media leaves Millennials at a disadvantage when it comes to receiving political communication and therefore has an impact on their political behavior. Millennials’ political participation can vary greatly. Gilman and Stokes (2014) explain that in the 2008 presidential election, Obama captured 66 percent of Millennial voters (which was similar to the 2012 election), and was a dramatic increase compared to past elections (p.58). While this was an increase in political activity for Millennials, Gilman, and Stokes state that this is not the new norm. They explain that Millennials are a pragmatic generation, which undermines a long-term allegiance to one political party (p.58). In other words, Millennials may be more focused on results and care less about which party will provide results. Gilman and Stokes (2014) write, “Millennials are not eschewing politics as much as they do not see politics as a viable option for achieving the outcomes they believe are important. Beyond voting, other traditional forms of civic engagementhave also decreased for Millennials” (p. 58). This has led Millennials to find more accessible ways to participate in communities and in the world”one of those ways is through social media. Almost half of Millennials who use social networking sites use social media to “like” or promote political material, 42 percent to post thoughts on issues, and 36 percent to encourage others to act (Gilman & Stokes, 2014, p. 58). While this is not formal political activity, it may be the preferred way. Millennials choose to be politically “active.” The question that experts are now asking is, does the activity on social media translate to real actions in the world? Vatikiotis (2014) states that the advent of social media has revived the discussion on media engagement and participation of citizens (p. 293). He points to research that shows that social media encourages the public to engage in political discussion, but that these discussions lack the analytical and critical value that traditional media has (Vatikiotis, 2014, p. 298). A tweet or Facebook post is weak online political activism and has little or no political impact.

A common theme that Millennials have self-identified is that they are tech savvy (Gagnier, 2008, p. 33). Other characteristics Millennials identified are that they are educated, open-minded, and involved. In Gagnier’s study, Millennial participants were then asked how their characteristics position them to address 11 important political problems. While there was a difference in opinion, Gagnier goes on to say that at a summit held for Millennial research revealed that Millennials believe they are uniquely positioned to handle political issues (p. 33). Gagnier noted that these self-identified characteristics enabled the millennial generation to “bring attention to issues,” “bring diverse solutions,” and allow the generation to “network, make connections faster, and break down barriers,” (Gagnier, 2008, p. 33). The Millennial participants in at this summit wrote the statement “We, the Millennial Generation, are uniquely positioned to call attention to today’s issues and shape the future based on the great legacy we have inherited,” (Gagnier, 2008, p. 33). Despite the positive attitude of Millennials, they may not be educated on political topics because the information they receive through social media may be inaccurate.

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