SOCIAL MEDIA BRINGS POLITICS TO MILLENNIAL GENERATION

ANNIKA WALL, TRUMPET MANAGING EDITOR

Social media use is high among younger generations, which is one reason why politicians, such as President Donald J. Trump, have turned to it to reach a broader audience. While only 8% of Americans say they follow Trump on Twitter, 76% of Americans say they see, read or hear about Trump’s tweets, Gallup reported. 

 “Most of the time people are not accessing news by sitting down at night and watching CNN. It’s through their cell phones,” Trevor Hurd, a fourth-year and Student Body President at Wartburg College, said. “If you have politicians who aren’t trying to constantly voice their concerns through social media, I don’t think they’re reaching our generation and the generations before and after us.”

Music artists and bands are the type of public figures most commonly followed on social media platforms worldwide, according to Statista. In comparison, politicians are the fifth-most followed public figure, behind actors and actresses, professional athletes and reality television stars. Additionally, news outlets such as the Washington Post have written articles detailing what topics 2020 presidential candidates have discussed the most on social media. 

This could be due to the age disparity between politicians and adults who use social media. Out of adults online in the United States, 38% of 18-29 year olds use Twitter, a study from statista.com found. In comparison, 17% of 50-64 year olds use Twitter. The average age of a U.S. senator is 61.8 years, according to senate.gov.

“The advent of social media has been a digital disruption in political campaigns,” Dr. Penni Pier, Grant L. Price endowed department chair in journalism & communication, said. “It allows them to reach a much wider audience because it’s cheaper, it’s faster and they can employ their surrogates to get their information out there. In that sense, it’s a wonderful asset.”

The type of voices that are prominently displayed on social media are determined by algorithms, according to NPR. The algorithms have a goal to increase engagement through creating positive feedback loops, or echo chambers. To do this, the algorithms steer audiences toward content that is similar to previously viewed content.

“In a way, social media makes it easier to communicate with people, but also harder in the fact that it’s one more avenue that you have to make sure you’re on top of,” Matthew Schneider, owner of Waverly business Neighborhood home running for an at-large Waverly city council seat, said. “It becomes an extension of someone’s natural communication. It magnifies the good and magnifies the bad.”

Even though individuals recognize the problems echo chambers create, it can be difficult to diversify a social media feed. Algorithms can determine whether or not the audience reads content, according to a 2016 interview Eli Pariser, CEO of Upworthy, did with NPR. In order to diversify the feeds, one must read content instead of clicking on it.

“I feel like social media is not an accurate representation of multiple points of view,” Jessica Sydnes, a third-year student at Wartburg who identifies as Democratic, said. “Most people don’t put in the effort to follow people who may not believe the same things, especially if the views appear problematic or even radical compared to their own views.”

Another issue that arises throughout social media is divisiveness. When hot-button issues appear on Twitter, far left and far right dialogue comes to the forefront, KQED reported from a sample of 40,000 Twitter users. One example is after the Las Vegas shooting, which killed 58 people, Twitter users who described themselves as “moderate right” showed support for gun laws that would be categorized as “far right.” This includes arming all citizens or protecting all gun rights. 

“The negative is what people feed off of, in Facebook and Twitter specifically,” Sarah Miller, a communication and marketing assistant for the Waverly Chamber of Commerce, said. Miller worked with Iowa Governor Chet Culver as a press assistant until 2009. “I can think of some of the emails we used to get who did not agree with Culver’s policies or decision-making. I can’t imagine how that would have ballooned with a social media presence.”

For more information about politics in the United States, go to usa.gov. 

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