Editor’s Note: This post was written by Aubrey Kirsch and Jack Massaroni.
Millennials seem to be the social media generation. While younger people are buried in their smartphones and laptops and post and tweet their opinions regularly, their political opinions and statements not necessarily reflected in this social media atmosphere. Distrust of social media is a popular sentiment among millennials, who would rather check the validity of a post rather than take it at face value. Though millennials use Facebook most often for news, they tend to seek out more traditional news sources to fact-check; often they turn to television news, blogs, and online news sources. They have a habit of stumbling upon political issues on social media and researching them later on. Rarely do they seek out information voluntarily, but rather do so to check the accuracy of a statement. Furthermore, millennials seem to be extremely politically apathetic and don’t care for politics. This is reflected in their voter turnout. How does social media indicate what to expect of millennials in the 2016 election?
Any discussion of millennials and social media must discuss “slacktivism.” This phenomenon has become rampant in our information-rich world and millennials are at the forefront. Slacktivism is participating in an online form of a political or social cause, such as clicking “like” on an activist post or signing an online petition. This requires little involvement and can be done from the comfort of a phone screen. In fact, millennials perceive that they can do more good on the computer than a traditional activist can. Studies show this activity is not a significant indicator for traditional activism at all. People who give such token support are no more likely to give meaningful support to a cause. However, slacktivism via social media is not inherently worse than traditional activism. Social media has provided an easy avenue for young people to organize events to proliferate their ideas. Social media has become a way to share ideas, not necessarily a way to get involved.
With social media, millennials often look to the comments section of a news article or a candidate’s Facebook page in order to gauge the general population’s opinions. Democratic millennials are more likely to learn about the primary elections through social media than their Republican counterparts. However, Republican millennials have a higher rate of not using any sources. In fact, more than half of millennials report receiving political news through Facebook, but it is not their main source of news. Millennials generally do not seek out political news on social media, but stumble upon it and then actively look for such content in a more traditional news outlet. Only 15% of millennials prefer getting their news from a social media source or blog.
Although political slacktivism and discovering news via social media is rampant among millennials, they have low voter turnout and are distrustful of the two-party system. These factors, along with historically unfavorable nominees, indicate that getting millennials to show up to the polls in 2016 will definitely be a challenge. Many campaigns and parties within the past few years have recognized this problem, as well as the ever-growing presence and importance of social media, especially to millennials. They are attempting to use social media as a way to attempt to engage the younger generation, by bringing content to them, and hopefully, having them show up in November.
The conventions provided an outlet for this strategic appeal to millennials. The conventions sought to integrate the convention and its highlights into a form that was easily digestible on social media. Over 27 million people engaged with either the Republican National Convention or the Democratic National Convention through likes, comments, posts, or shares on Facebook during the conventions’ respective weeks. The conventions were streamed on Youtube and Facebook Live, allowing people to view the conventions right on their feed. Each convention was watched for an average of 25 minutes on livestream. The hashtags #RNCinCLE and #DemsInPhilly allowed easy tracking of twitter conversation surrounding the conventions. Social media allowed many who may otherwise be uninformed or less informed, to be updated on convention news and experience the convention through their preferred medium.
— Twitter Government (@gov) July 28, 2016
While many people certainly did not watch every night of the convention, the most important and surprising moments were made well-known and spread through social media. At the RNC, Ted Cruz’s refusal to endorse Trump caused a massive Twitter spike and many reactions on other social media platforms. Melania Trump and her strikingly familiar speech launched a whole different sort of chatter about the RNC; the meme “Famous Melania Trump Quotes” poked fun at Melania and attributed famous, well-known quotes to Ms. Trump. Despite the more negative conversation surrounding these events, Donald Trump’s candidacy has been bolstered by social media, especially his Twitter. During the DNC, many took to social media to give their opinions on prominent figures’ speeches. However, social media proved somewhat problematic as well for the Democrats, just before the convention, with leaks of Democratic National Committee emails. Social media brought both positive and negative attention to the candidates and their conventions, but publicity nonetheless.
— Twitter Government (@gov) July 19, 2016
Does this exposure to political news turn into something more? It appears so. Over one-third of millennials are influenced to vote a certain way based on the information they read on social media. Furthermore, almost half of millennials and young people engage in politically fueled discussion via some online forum. These people were found to be much more likely to vote than their counterparts.
Social media has changed the presidential campaign process, just as the radio did in the 1920s and television did in the 1960s. The emphasis on social media during this primary season and during the conventions illustrates this. Millennials have embraced social media and perfected it, taking it not only as a form of entertainment but a learning resource. Though slacktivism and false reports are a concern, millennials have shown that they do their homework. They are wary of social media’s credibility, thus they take research into their own hands. Because of this, we are confident that they can make their own decisions about the candidates running. Millennials do care about their future president and will research politics (albeit, when convenient for them). Social media also allows campaign a new medium to connect and mobilize voters, especially younger generations. What is needed for millennials to make a true political difference is that they need to transfer their passion from social media and their smartphones to the polls. Token activism does not equate to true support until the slacktivist goes to the polls.