Since months there has been talk of a coming “red tsunami” in which the Republicans would take over the Senate as well as the House of Representatives. It wasn’t as sure as many had thought. Politico.com reports that the GOP’s hope of a “takeback” of Congress had already diminished seven weeks prior to the midterm elections.
In fact, after the Supreme Court revoked a 50-year constitutional right to abortion by overturning Roe v. Wade, a previously disengaged Democratic base was suddenly reignited – and throughout the summer there were those on social media suggesting it would be a “blue wave” that would come Election Day.
Breaking the Waves
The Democratic surge was over, but modeling changed and the GOP appeared to be on track for a big win. But there wasn’t a wave from either party and barely any ripples. Everybody who had predicted that there would be an upsurge on social media either way seems to have completely failed.
Social media can be a unguarded, largely uncontrolled repository for random thoughts, emotions conspiracies and speculations. Craig Barkacs, a professor of ethics and business law in the Knauss School of Business, University of San Diego, said that once a topic is popular, it can be amplified to an extent beyond its original purpose.”
Although polls did indicate some close races in the past, they have taken a bad reputation.
“To be fair, the notion that a red wave was coming was firmly rooted in empirical evidence, such as midterms that typically go against the party occupying the White House, inflation, a president with low approval ratings, and high gas price – along with the specter of a looming recession,” added Barkacs.
Therefore, anyone claiming a red tide was on the horizon is simply repeating what pundits had already suggested.
Barkacs stated, “Even though the social media world isn’t known for its excesses or rationality, it turned out that pushing back against historical conspicuous trends was something very few people were willing do.”
Social media platforms play a major role in how we perceive current events. These “news” outlets may not always be trustworthy.
According to Campbell, people are inclined to believe what they see in news media. According to Colin Campbell, an associate professor of Marketing and editor in chief of The Journal of Advertising Research at the University of San Diego, this means people are more likely see news coverage that confirms their expectations.
Campbell stated that social media favors those who stand out most. “This is because more extreme views are more likely to prompt reactions – either likes or comments – from viewers, and thus are more likely to be prioritized by algorithms. This leads to more extreme views on social media, which have an over-average impact on users.
Social media helped to spread the message that “waves” were coming, despite polls showing very tight races.
Users may believe the various algorithms make them feel like they are part of the majority of voters. But, in reality, many of these races were very close to each other, according to Julianna Kirschner who is a lecturer at the University of Southern California Master of Communication Management program.
She explained that social media platforms contribute to political polarization because they echo the inputs of users,” she added. Users are often exposed to the same content in echo chambers that they find.
This can cause users to get familiarized with narrow political discourses that support their views. They can reuse these posts on social media. Kirschner stated that social media faces another challenge because of the dichotomous political environment in the United States.
Kirschner explained that users are classified as either Republican or Democrat or conservative or liberal or red or blue. The realistic choice of selecting a third party candidate or another option is not available to voters very often. Social media follows suit by categorizing users using one of two lenses: Republican and Democrat.
Social media was not wrong in general about the midterms. These platforms instead reflected back polarizing rhetoric to make us believe that one view was more representative of the vote block.
Kirschner stated that true representation actually consists of more gray areas. Kirschner stated that social media was responsible for over-amplification and how we perceived the midterm election.
It is even more true because the platforms often prove to be echo chambers which are highly partisan and/or demographically related.
Barkacs said, “It’s ironic that social networking, which so often divides individuals in fierce pursuit to what they believe is right,” “in this instance unified people around an incorrect viewpoint.”