Donald Trump, the former president of the United States, is known for using social media as a way to share his views with the public. Barack Obama, however, was the first candidate for president to use social media. It became clear that this could be a powerful tool in a presidential campaign. This fact was confirmed in 2016, when Trump’s team began to use carefully crafted messages on various platforms.
It is unclear if social media will still have an impact on the 2020 election. Twitter is a platform that has been used by both sides of the political spectrum for decades. Does it still hold any influence?
Aubrey Jewett, Associate Professor and Assistant School Director within the School of Politics, Security, and International Affairs of Central Florida University, stated that “Social Media will play an essential role in 2024’s presidential election.”
Jewett pointed out that for many Americans social media is an important news source. He cited the Pew Research report that showed that over 70% of Americans get their news via social media.
Jewett added, “Candidates and campaigns will use social media advertising to target their messages precisely to those who are most responsive.” Disinformation campaigns are spreading through social media, despite attempts to stop. They may have an important impact. People often use social media to talk about politics and policies.
Social media can be a powerful tool to motivate voters, to ensure they cast their ballots, and both campaigns are likely going spend a large amount of money in these outreach efforts.
What about the spread of misinformation?
A danger is that the social media platforms could be used to “fool everyone, always,” at least through the spreading of misinformation.
Craig Barkacs, professor of business law and ethics in the MBA programs at the Knauss School of Business at the University of San Diego, warned that social media has become a prime pollutant in today’s political landscape, which is so littered with lies, deception, conspiracy theories, misinformation, and, even worse, disinformation – even as nearly three-quarters of Americans turn to it for a source of news.
Barkacs explained that headline-itis is a mental disorder whereby Americans are prone to glancing quickly at the shiny objects and moving onto the next one. The average article is read for 15 seconds and a video maybe 10 or less seconds, according to research. Pew Research Center also found in a study that people who rely on social media for their news are less politically aware and engaged than those who use other sources.
Even though minds can be changed
It is unlikely that those who are most involved in “flame-wars” online on Twitter or other platforms will change their mind, since the people who throw the fuel have already made their decision. It is still possible for opinions to change on controversial issues.
Some people might claim, “Hey! If you look at the vicious arguments that go back and forth on social media sites, nobody ever changes their mind.” This may hold true for both sides, but not for anyone who watches the arguments. If one side only appears, and is not challenged by anyone else, then the viewers will never be exposed to a counterargument.
It could be even more important to check the facts of statements by politicians before next year’s elections. Even more so, it could be important to prevent a campaign of disinformation that supporters of one candidate could mount to undercut the opposition.
The lies, conspiracy theories, and deception that are spread on social media need to be fought against. Disinformation and propaganda cannot be ignored. Barkacs said that vigilance is important and that the game of “whack-a-mole” cannot be stopped, no matter how frustrating it might be. Thomas Jefferson once said, “An informed electorate must be a pre-requisite to democracy.” Even though the social media is used often to spread misinformation, they can still be utilized to provide accurate information.
Social Media’s Changing Role
It should also be noted that both sides use social media to good success – so it is likely its role as a tool to reach voters in an election will only continue to evolve.
Jewett said that when social media became popular, Democrats seemed to have an edge because young voters were much more likely to be using new technologies like social media. Also, younger voters tend to lean Democratic. As time passed, however, the use of social media grew, with many boomers, seniors, and middle-aged people using it. In 2016, when Donald Trump was at the height of his popularity, he effectively used Twitter to market and recruit Republican voters.
It’s not yet clear which side has the advantage of social media in 2024.
Biden, who is older, hasn’t had a huge impact on social media. However, Democrats and Biden’s campaign are likely to increase their social media marketing. Biden will be able to use social media effectively to discredit his opponents and generate excitement if he faces Trump again, as it is highly likely.
We can also expect social media to play a part if a different GOP candidate wins the nomination. It could also include Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. He may need to make up lost ground.
Jewett added that “he will need to show that he is a social media expert, which has been largely absent from his tenure as governor. However, his team of campaigners will include many social media experts who worked in his past campaigns and governor’s offices.”
Attention Artificial Intelligence
The biggest question is not whether there will be another match between Biden & Trump but how AI could be used next year.
Jewett said that artificial intelligence would help to microtarget voters and respond faster to social media events.
He warned that the biggest impact could be the use of AI to present misinformation in unprecedented ways – both in terms of quality and quantity of advertisements as well as via faux news pieces.
The AI technology allows even those with only basic computer knowledge to easily create fake videos, pictures and audio that fools the general public and can be difficult to detect by digital experts. It’s scary to think that, in an election that is close, there may be clever ‘deepfakes’ which can damage one candidate or give their election opponent,” Jewett added.
Social media and AI could create messages that are more targeted than ever before.
Barkacs said that social media had infected politics whether they liked it or not.