Social media battleground pulls younger generation into election

Whether you’re #I’mWithHer or #MakeAmericaGreatAgain, social media is the place for you.

Statistically, the 2016 presidential election has the most social media presence of any to date, said Government Technology magazine. Candidates are using social media to cater to younger audiences, especially the 18-24 year old demographic, said Ipsos Mori, a market research organization. More than 34 percent of this group indicated that reading something on social media would influence their vote.

Many students, even those who are not eligible to vote this November, are taking to social media to express their political views. Senior Brock Denniston said he believes there is no age limit when expressing one’s political opinions.

“I am not eligible to vote this election,” Denniston said. “But does that mean I can’t express my views? Do I have to be 18 in order to have a say in something? No matter what age you are you can express your ideas, there is no age limit. When people try to say I can’t have a say in something about Trump or Hillary because I can’t vote, it makes me even happier to debate with them.” 

By utilizing social media to get information out to the public, candidates are able to express their opinions and receive an immediate response. A recent survey by Fluent, a college insights and marketing firm, shows that social media is the primary method through which high school students get their information on the election and 41 percent of youth ages 15 to 25 engage in some form of participatory politics online.

Senior Danny Mackzum said that expressing opinions could help others decide where they stand on the election.

“Even though I can’t vote, I still like to express my opinions,” Mackzum said. “People on social media are going to see my opinion and be like ‘Yeah, he’s right’ or ‘No, I totally disagree with him.’”

Among popular mediums of political expression is the meme. Through every step of the race to the White House, memes have documented the candidates’ best and worst moments. Recently, the Anti-Defamation League, a civil rights and human relations agency, has declared certain memes – including the popular “Pepe the Frog” internet meme – symbols of hate. This comes in response to the increasing propagation of the Alt-Right Movement, a movement that represents right-wing ideologies as an alternative to conventional conservatism, online.

Junior Millie Ortega said that memes educate and help lighten the mood of this controversial election.

“I think they do serve an overall purpose,” Ortega said. “They educate and bring awareness to what the reality of this election is. Four years ago, I don’t think there would’ve been political memes, but with how popular social media is and how wild this election is, they’re good for people to be looking at.”

Students also post material such as videos, quotes, and articles promoting a preferred candidate. Senior Noah Harrison uses social media to put Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson into the spotlight.

“I’ve actually always considered myself more of a Libertarian, so if I had to pick right now, I’d say Gary Johnson,” Harrison said. “I think they need to let him debate; I think he makes the most sense. The last thing I posted (on social media) was for Gary Johnson, just trying to get him on the stage to be able to have a debate.”

The presidential candidates are also utilizing the power of social media to reach their audiences. With a total of 11.9 million followers on Twitter, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has been the most talked about person on social media since January, said SocialFlow, a social media optimization platform. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has 9.3 million followers and tweets several times a day. Gary Johnson holds 359 thousand followers. Through social media, the candidates have covered topics such as terrorism, the economy and race.

Denniston said people are often swayed by anti-Trump sentiment on social media.

“Don’t listen to the liberal and anti-Trump social media, make your own decisions for yourself, do your research and decide what your opinion is after that,” Denniston said. “Too many people have no knowledge of this election. I will continue to express my views and can’t wait to vote for Trump when he’s running for his second term.”

With the presidential election coming up on November 8, Ortega said that she feels a responsibility to be aware and make others aware of political issues, even though she can’t vote.

“A lot of people are like ‘You can’t even vote, why do you even have political views?,’” Ortega said. “But I think it’s so important to be educated, because decisions that they’re making now will affect us in the next four years. Honestly that’s why I tweet. I have 600 and something followers and that’s 600 people that go to our school and see that on their timeline.”

Harrison said that freedom of expression on social media is part of a person’s rights as a citizen.

“Whoever you support, you have a 100 percent right to put that wherever you want,” Harrison said. “You should be able to believe in what you want as long as it’s not harming (others) in any way. As you get older, it’s part of your rights as a citizen to contribute to society and do whatever you think is best.”

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