Written by Katie Marrin
Illustrated by Zoe Shields
I’ll be honest, I don’t consider myself to be a politics expert – with an arts background, the world of politics used to seem very out of touch from my reality. But let’s be frank, the last four years have forced everyone to to become interested in politics, whether we like it or not.
After the shocking result of Donald Trump’s presidency win and the UK’s decision to leave the EU in 2016, the political world seems to been non-stop. Since then we’ve had countless terror attacks, too many UK elections, Donald Trump’s tweets, the Black Lives Matter Movement, and a global pandemic, to name but a few – we’re definitely all living through a long answer GCSE question of the future.
So no, I’m not a politics expert, but thanks to social media, I’m a self-taught learner, and the US Presidential Election 2020 is a prime example of social media teaching us more than the governing documents and politicians of any country could ever hope to.
As I write this, the winner of the election is still to be announced, and yet within 24 hours of the US polls closing, we already have new, organic Twitter trends – #EveryVoteCounts and #CountTheVotes – that are sparking an international conversation about the importance of every voter’s ballot being counted. These conversations might be joined by traditional US media outlets like CNN or The New York Times, but they didn’t start them – the people did.
As an onlooker in the UK, the recent 2020 US Elections Campaigns have been fascinating – we’ve all gotten lost in the Facebook comments of random political conversations on a meme’s thread, but this year a new player entered the area. Say hello, to TikTok. According to MarketingCharts, over 50 per cent of TikTok users in the US are aged 18-34 – a prime social media hub for the United States’ Youth Vote, which is classed as the 18-24 year old voters. TikTok is a particularly interesting medium for us to look at given that Trump has threatened to shut the social media platform down, and Biden’s official campaign team have steered clear of the platform – both Presidential candidates are concerned with the security threats associated with using the platform. So, what does that leave? Real young people and their opinions – whether they’re old enough to vote or not!
In an interview with The Business Insider, the Texan teenager behind “The Gen Z Political Analyst” TikTok account explained that whilst the app may have started as a place to make silly videos, the Black Lives Matter movement triggered a change in her approach. There’s no denying that it’s the younger generations vented their political frustration across social media throughout the pandemic, so this account decided to create a space on TikTok where she could create political TikTok content that not only educated, but allowed people to criticise and question their own parties and political opinions.
A similar account, TikTok For Biden, is run by a 16 year old American, who again, is too young to vote, but not too young to have an impact. In an interview with The Hill, one of the content creators for the TikTok For Biden account discussed the importance of creator collaboration on political TikTok accounts, and the potential for different styles of TikTok accounts to come together and produce new content so that fellow TikTokers can learn about politics, and also engage with it on their terms, in their environment – and this is true for both parts of the race, with similar accounts supporting Trump, like Conservative Hype House.
So how does this actually impact the election? Firstly, voters create a social media bubble of people who all believe what they believe, which makes it hard for them to believe anyone could disagree with them, and this is a dangerous side to the TikTok Party-Specific accounts, because a balanced argument is always the best argument. Secondly, many moons ago, the prime source of elections news would have been mainstream print media, primarily newspapers, and popular TV news channels. But in recent years, probably helped by Trump’s infamous questioning of the integrity of media outlets, the public have grown to distrust those national media outlets, decided to fact check for themselves. This is, of course, not true for everyone, but it’s incredibly common amongst our younger generations, and social media is where they’re going to fact check. I was reading a Facebook post earlier today about Biden securing Wisconsin, and a Trump supporter was questioning the validity result and making claims about the voting numbers – and right there, was another commenter correcting her facts, and a separate one asking for proof. We’ve become a very suspicious and cautious generation (with good reason!), meaning that fact checking has become second nature – and the social media platforms have noticed themselves.
During the 2020 US Election, it seems that social media platforms have acknowledged their role as information funnels, and thankfully, they’ve understood their responsibility to limit the spread of fake news to avoid misinforming their customers. So recently, Instagram actually banned any hashtags relating to the election, and Facebook and Twitter have been censoring any Elections content that is not verified or could be incorrect. A fantastic example is actually Trump’s Twitter feed – in the last 24 hours, four of Trump’s tweets have been censored with the following message: “Some or all of the content shared in this Tweet is disputed and might be misleading about an election or other civic process.” When you look deeper into this, it appears that Twitter updated their Civic Integrity Policy in October of this year to specify that Twitter cannot be used to share content that would manipulate and interfere with any elections.
The question is though, is this right?
Is social media not the place for free speech and open opinions?
As long as a comment is not hateful, derogatory or abusive, should it not be allowed?
Or, alternatively, does the growing impact of social media mean that censoring is inevitable and necessary?
All are valid points, and these questions currently have no definitive answer, but it cannot be denied that this 2020 USA election would definitely be a very different landscape without the impact of digital media – the world would not be tracking every comment from every candidate, or every vote as it comes in, and there would be less room for critique and analysis from the public.
Earlier on in the campaign, there were lots of discussions regarding Biden’s past, which yes, would have been discussed on traditional media outlets, but you would have your allocated 10 minutes on the news to hear about it, or your column in the newspaper and you’d switch off. But now, I could spend hours searching the historical actions of both Biden and Trump if that was how I wanted to filter my ballot decision. Traditional media often feeds a heavily edited, targeted, and unbalanced news story due to time constraints. Digital media has no time constraints, adding an extra layer to the decision process behind the ballot.
Is social media the decider in this election? Not completely – the actual politics probably has something to do with it somewhere! However, digital media is endless – anyone can jump online and write a blog or a news article, and list it as the truth. For many people they will vote because that’s the way they, and their family have always voted. Others will vote based on policy and manifestos, whilst others will watch a TV debate and decide on that. Whilst others will read endless blog post, articles, social media posts and absorb videos online to make their ballot decisions. And let’s be honest, social media lets the world watch the election fallout too.