Snapchat registering over 400,000 people is emblematic of social media’s ability to mobilize and politicize users.
Snapchat has more to offer its users than funny filters or face swaps. During the weeks leading up to the 2018 midterms, the app encouraged its users to begin their voting registration process via Turbovote.
It took only two weeks for Snapchat to get over 400,000 users registered to vote, according to The New York Times. That number is fantastic and is a sign that Americans, especially younger generations, care about participating in their democracy.
Snapchat wasn’t the only app encouraging people to get out and vote. In fact, it was impossible to open up any social media app without seeing something about statewide issues, candidates and other voting information.
This shows that social media has the ability to create positive effects in our society. So many are quick to point out the negative side of social media. They are not wrong; apps like Instagram and Facebook often create feelings of low self-esteem in those who use it. People can avoid that pitfall of social media by controlling what appears on their feed.
Social media apps have also made it much easier for misinformation to circulate on the internet. People often share posts that cater to their biases, even if they aren’t true. As long as people remind themselves not to blindly believe each headline or post they see, they can avoid that negative aspect of social media.
Yet it would be a mistake to write off social media as something that our society would be better off without. For one thing, the existence of platforms like Snapchat and Twitter have given thousands of people a chance to share their voice with their peers and the world at large.
Dr. Brewin, the department chairperson and professor of media studies at the University of Tulsa, agreed to talk to me about social media and its impact on political activism. He said social media has changed the way people “experience politics,” adding, “For most people, politics came at them from a distance, and it was often mediated through messages that were aimed at a large mass of people. Mass media gave everybody the same message.”
Now there are many different types of messages that people can view daily on social media. This is has both negative and positive consequences. It has made it easier for people to ignore facts they don’t like, but it has also helped people learn about important issues.
Dr. Brewin noted this positive side of social media. He said that social media “might help [people] become more involved. It is more interactive … There is a sense in which people feel like they may have more control over what they see and hear, which gives them a stronger sense of agency.” The interactive quality of social media makes it easier for people to be a part of causes they are passionate about.
Social media has clearly accomplished one good thing: it has made it easier for people to register to vote, regardless of their political beliefs. Registering to vote does not ensure that they will vote, but it is the first step in the right direction.
Social media is not perfect. It does not guarantee that people will be more educated about political issues, even if they are encountering a variety of viewpoints on social media. But it does give people a greater sense of agency and help them become more involved.