SALT LAKE CITY — In recent years, more Americans have shifted their news consumption from traditional media — like TV, radio and newspapers — to digital platforms like Facebook and Instagram. How do platforms like social media sites affect your vote?
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in April more than 3 billion people used Facebook, Messenger, Instagram or WhatsApp in a single month.
With many Americans receiving live news updates from their social media sites, these platforms are becoming increasingly powerful political tools. As a result, political ads spending on digital media in 2020 has now topped $2.8 billion.
Overall, 72% of U.S. adults say social media companies have too much power and influence in politics today, according to a June 16-22 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center.
Also, 90% of Republicans and independents who lean toward the GOP say it’s at least somewhat likely that social media platforms censor political viewpoints they find objectionable. That’s a slight increase from 85% in 2018, according to the Center.
Conservatives rule Facebook
Conservative political commentator and media host Ben Shapiro, 36, has more than 3.2 million Twitter followers and more than 7.5 million Facebook followers. At age 17, he became the youngest nationally-syndicated columnist in the United States.
The Daily Wire, which is run by Shapiro, was the top publisher on Facebook in July (the most recent month data is available), according to research shared by data firm NewsWhip.
The Daily Wire had nearly 99 million engagements for the month — about 8 million more engagements than CNN, the next closest news organization. (Engagement counts all likes, reactions, comments and shares that a post receives.)
Those figures easily blew past The New York Times, which garnered 61.5 million engagements, and The Washington Post, 43.6 million engagements, according to The Wrap.
“Who’s influencing your vote?” Dave asked. “Well if you’re on social media, it’s the conservatives.”
Politics in Utah
Shapiro spoke to students at the University of Utah in September 2017.
Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics, joined Debbie Dujanovic and Dave Noriega Friday to discuss the impact social media sites place on voters.
“He was popular then, but now he’s the social media version of Rush Limbaugh,” Dave said.
“These kind of speakers, particularly right now, have power because it’s all about confirmation bias,” Perry said. “The people that are liking these particular people are being fed a constant diet of it. You look at social media; it knows what you like to eat. It just feeds you time and time again. I think that’s why you’re seeing polarizing figures on both sides getting huge followings.”
Debbie mentioned an article in Forbes published Oct. 7 that said Snapchat announced that it has helped more than 1.16 million young people register to vote in 2020.
In an interview with the Forbes, Sophia Gross, who is public policy manager for Snap Inc., the parent company of Snapchat, said, “We have massive reach with Gen-Z users who are old enough to vote — in fact, of the 100 million users we reach in the U.S., 80% are 18+.”
Perry said registering a whole lot of young people to vote tends to help Democrats. But he pointed out the next step is the most important one:
“Do they turn in that ballot?” he said.
Welcome to the machine
Perry said social media is capitalizing on a moment in the United States where “families and others are at a breaking point.”
“When you look at what’s happened with the pandemic and the tentacles that go out into the economy,” Perry said. “I think what social media is capturing is this one point right here: As we have come to realize that the decisions for the most important things in our lives, our jobs, the ability for our family to eat, even if we can get a vaccine. Those decisions are all being made by someone else.”
Perry said, “Social media as you have talked about is capturing that fact, and they’re playing on some of the fears, some of the opportunities. That uncertainty, the sleeping giant that is awakened right now is what is feeding these machines, and these machines are trying to find those people.”
Conspiracy theory influencers
Debbie said she was concerned about the vast amount of money being spent on social media “but also random posts from friends of mine who really aren’t that educated but tend to be a little bit of conspiracy theorists and how they are posting, and I think that also is a potential to influence votes.”
“You are absolutely right, and it is,” Perry said. “And that is a way people try to get you to come to that side whatever it is. I can appreciate the fact that people are getting their meat from these places, they’re feeding on these conspiracies, but I’ll tell you what we’ve got to do, sometimes we’ve gotta eat the vegetables, too.”
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