Before the technological boom of our era, people in the United States weren’t as closely connected as we are today with the internet and mobile phones. Now, we practically have all the information we want at the tap of a screen or press of a button. With Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms, political news and thorough online discussion is booming more than ever before, especially amongst teenagers since they are the most frequently active on social media. Nowadays, it is almost required for those running for office to use social media to connect with younger voters, and this use has been increasing every election cycle. One of the first examples of the use of media to connect with voters was the introduction of fireside chats, a series of TV broadcasts that hosted President Franklin reporting to the nation, which began in 1933. Today, the most notable resemblance of this is President Trump’s usage of twitter as a means to inform the current state of events taking place in America, but also as a means to influence social media users to vote under his political views. This is just one of many examples on the way social media has completely transformed politics in the United States. The question that I wish to answer in my research is in what ways does social media shape the political views of teenagers in the United States?
Within social platforms like Facebook and Twitter, there often is only discussion between like-minded users which can be bad for teens and other trying to discuss with a diverse audience. Before the internet, people typically received their news from the TV, radio, word of mouth, and the most popular one being newspapers. With platforms such as these, information is edited and checked by news organizations who have experienced writers and staff that are able to inform the public in a proper manner. Today, more and more teenagers rely on social media for news and information, sometimes as their only news source. Because social media is an online open expression and discussion platform, this allows all sorts of political beliefs to be expressed, whether they are factually correct or not: “One of the great things and one of the horrible things about social media is that everyone can have their say,” says Juana Summers (2016), an editor for CNN Politics. “It’s kind of a marketplace for ideas. And some voices that sometimes are not correct or have a very partisan slant can oftentimes get amplified.” This kind of amplification of beliefs is what’s called the echo-chamber, which is defined as “an environment in which a person encounters only beliefs or opinions that coincide with their own, so that their existing views are reinforced and alternative ideas are not considered” (Oxford Dictionary).
An echo-chamber is what a lot of teenagers fall into on social media. Because everyone has a political bias, teens will typically look for sources on social media that reports on news with a biased twist or a person or group that has aligning political views. This is because most people want to interact with others who are like-minded within communities dominated by a single view. According to a research study on social media behavior, “Messages between like-minded users typically carry positive sentiment, while messages between skeptics and activists carry negative sentiment” (Williams, McMurray, Kurz, & Lambert, 2015). When one falls into an echo-chamber they will only find that which aligns with their beliefs, which polarizes people much more than normal. This is why the 2016 election felt more polarizing and aggressive than normal, because everyone fed onto their beliefs and ideas, and when presented with an opposing idea, quickly pushed back on it. Pew Research’s findings share similarities with what was found in the previous research, citing that roughly a fourth of those who use social media, both Twitter and Facebook, follow political figures who share similar beliefs to their own (Duggan & Smith, 2016).
This shows that social media users are creating a divide in discussion and civil dialogue by not even listening or following views that don’t align with theirs. It could also be the reason the 2016 election was one of the most heated elections to date. Despite this, Pew Research has also concluded that a comparable amount of other users who also use social media actually follow both sides of the political board in the past election, including those they agree and disagree with. 86% of those users explained that the main reason why was simply because they wanted to stay informed with what the other had to say (Duggan & Smith, 2016). This information agrees with the fact that voter turnout for younger people have historically been low, and that “...young voters are open to political information on social media only when it is presented in a civil manner” (Curry, 2016).
What’s lacking in social media where echo-chambers are, is dialogue that almost nobody is willing to get into, and that can cause immediate division among teens using social media. Again, according to Pew Research, “When users disagree with political content posted by one of their friends, the vast majority of social media users (83%) say that they usually just ignore the post and move on” (Duggan & Smith, 2016). Everybody is suck with their beliefs that they aren’t willing to explore or listen to what the other side has to share since most think that others that disagree aren’t worth the time and effort to rationally listen and think. Although this is made in a similar fashion, Pew Research also cites that unfriending on social media due to political differences is rare, where fewer than 10% of respondents follow this practice. Leticia Bode’s (2016) research on this matter disagrees with Pew’s poll, finding that this practice is more common than what Pew has gathered in its poll: “Analysis finds support for the idea that political unfriending is most common among those who talk about politics, those strongest in ideology, those that see the most politics in social media, and those that perceive the greatest political disagreement in their social networks.”
In a highly-supervised social media experience, it reflects exactly what the user wants to see that will adhere to their tastes and preferences, whereas a low-supervised experience gives the user a larger portion of differing content that can give the user an unbiased look at things. This is important because those who customize their social media experience don’t always get the full story or they will ignore what might be important. While maybe not all of us have a direct political preference in one way or another, Facebook and Twitter actively skews information based on algorithms in ways that are unfavorable to teens and others who are discovering this type of content for the first time any looking for news to make an informed decision.
If there is one thing that teenagers look up to, it’s celebrities, and these celebrities have a lot of power when it comes to influencing teenagers towards a certain political leaning. Celebrities are very popular amongst teens that teens look up to them for everything that celebrities do, especially in politics. Recently, Taylor Swift tweeted about how everybody should go out and vote for the Democratic Party this year, and suffice to say, it was really effective. According to an article which references data from vote.org, “According to the group Vote.org, Swift's post to her 112 million Instagram followers seems to have ‘helped bring out young voters.’ ‘A majority of new registrations since Sunday have been from people between 18 and 29 years old,’ the group said in a release Tuesday. About 64,000 out of the 105,000 total new registrations nationwide since Sunday are in this age group” (“Taylor”, 2018).
Since many teenagers follow celebrities on social media, they are eager to follow in the footsteps of their piers, which is what Swift did to leverage all her teen fans into voting for her party. Although it might seem deceptive for a celebrity to make millions of teenagers vote for a party because they said so, it is certainly an effective way that shapes teens political views. In agreement with this finding, research was conducted during the 2008 presidential campaign with a focus on Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement of Barack Obama, and based on the data collected: “The results of this study suggest that Oprah Winfrey's endorsement of Barack Obama prior to the 2008 Democratic presidential primary had statistically and politically significant effects on Obama's political outcomes. Winfrey's involvement increased the share of the vote and the campaign contributions received by Obama, as well as the overall level of voter participation” (Garthwaite & Moore, 2012). Winfrey’s endorsement follows suit with Swift’s where being a large idol comes with many avid followers, and this can be seen with any celebrity. Merchandise, such as streetwear like Supreme or Yeezy for example, have dedicated followers despite appearance, functionality, or cost. This following due to name only can have a big impact on our culture and youth, and this can be equally seen with celebrities influencing people to vote their ways.
To summarize, social media has its place as a source for a quick and easy glimpse at the current political news and climate of today. As we progress into the future, it is likely that the majority of Americans will be using Facebook or Twitter as a means of engaging with the political grounds for our country (although it seems like Facebook is becoming less popular among the younger demographic). This level of participation is outstanding for our system, but the way social media is being used and configured as such is also slightly troubling. As an open and unfiltered platform, information is skewed in a way that users may misinterpret or be mislead, and this climate also might unintentionally influence users to customize their experience online to suit their political leanings. All together, it appears that the general conclusion is that social media is actually a terrible way to get information since there are many factors that alter information or adds biases to what should be straight news. While it would benefit teenagers to stop reading news from social media and switch to actual news sites such as the Associated Press or BBC, teens find it more convenient to use Facebook or Twitter for everything including political news.
Social Media’s Influence on U.S. Politics. (2022, Feb 02).
Retrieved December 4, 2023 , from
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