Experts and commentators are still working to fully understand the transformative effects social media had on politics this year. Here we capture some of the top facts, trends, and theories circulating on the subject.
1. The people’s preferred news source
Earlier this year a study from Pew Research showed that 62% of U.S. adults get at least some of their news through social media, with 20% of respondents saying they do so ‘often’. Facebook leads the pack with approximately 140 million people, 44% of the US population, getting their news there. Overall, this is a good thing for voter turnout, as people are more likely to vote if they’re engaged in the issues. However, it isn’t exactly the most reliable source for accurate information and there are also concerns about echo chambers or ‘narrow-casting’ where people only seek out and hear the ideas they support.
2. Driving political engagement among younger generations
It seems Millennials are the most engaged generation of voters to date. This is being driven by social media, where younger voters go to discuss socio-political issues with their peers to gain support and share opinions. They’re driving a trend towards participatory politics where individuals engage in ongoing debates and discussions that largely take place online. These millennials increasingly expect politicians to meet them in these spaces, changing the way our leaders talk to voters. Young voters are also overwhelmingly more accepting of diversity than their predecessors, which hints that today’s populist disruptions, which are partially rooted in resurgent nationalism among some groups, may not last the test of time.
3. Favoured by radicals?
Recently a professor at University College London speculated that social media may favour radicalism, and news coverage has long reported how extremist groups such as ISIS rely heavily on social media to recruit and motivate followers. Likewise, internet trolls use social media as an outlet for abuse and aggression that is often extremist in its sexism and racism toward public figures. However, research from Salford University has suggested that while social media may encourage more activist involvement, its role on the pathway to radicalisation is less clear.
4. Pollsters need to catch-up with social data
Social media did a much better job at predicting the outcome of the U.S. election and the U.K. referendum than conventional polls. Several firms that analyse social media postings, including our own, demonstrated that Trump had a commanding lead on social media prior to election day. So while poll predictions have not had a great year, some suggest that polling will become more decisively accurate in the future by combining polling data with social media analysis.