How young people’s social media use is shifting during election year

While social media accounts usually foster light-hearted content, social media users recently noticed a shift in content in the wake of the social justice protests around the country and the upcoming presidential election. More and more individuals from common citizens to politicians have begun to exercise their political voice on their social media platforms.

Evelyn Menkes, a University of Miami senior majoring in neuroscience, said she noticed change in her Instagram.

“I’ve definitely seen more people on my feed post about political topics since the pandemic started,” stated Menkes, “I even feel like Instagram is becoming as political if not more political than the other socials like Twitter and Facebook.”

Political and social-justice-related content is ramping up, coming from not only more politicians on Instagram, but from YouTube influencers, lifestyle bloggers, fitness models, as well. These new users posting political content, who usually steer clear of controversial politics, are now facilitating the general shift that Instagram is heading towards.

With the number of political posts increasing on popular social media platforms, many wonder if users see different political opinions on their social media feed that may oppose their personal beliefs.

Geethika Kataru, a sophomore majoring in political science and motion pictures and the director of communications for the UM College Democrats student organization, said she believes that she does have different opinions on her Instagram feed.

“Since my friends come from a variety of backgrounds, I have a mix of opinions on my Instagram,” stated Kataru, “Especially going to UM, there are so many people who have different life experiences and were raised in different places.”

Living in political bubbles

However, Michael Touchton, associate professor from the department of political science and associate faculty lead of global health, predicts the posts on peoples’ social media feeds most likely serves to confirm already held existing opinions.

“In general I think there’s a lot of evidence that people build bubbles, and they stay in those bubbles— political bubbles and also just general opinion bubbles, too,” said Touchton. “People gravitate towards those that they agree with and do tend to be much less receptive to arguments they disagree with.”

These bubbles extend to politics, Touchton explained, and in a contentious election year, much like that of 2016, the division between the two major American parties is heavily pronounced.

“People from the Republican standpoint don’t want to hear Democratic complaints about Trump,” Touchton explained, “And people who are Democrats don’t want to hear anyone defending Trump and don’t want to hear complaints about the Democrats. And so from that standpoint, people tend to self-select and isolate.”

“A lot of my students have said they have seen a lot of relatives posting views that are completely opposite of their own. I see generational arguments, where people say ‘grandma or grandpa, how could you say that? That’s crazy’ or vice versa, like ‘when you’re older you’ll understand more,’” Touchton said.

Pandemic and election year lead to more time online

In addition to an increasing number of people on social media, many say they have seen an uptick in the number of political posts on their news feeds since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think it’s easier to reach people on social media, also because they have more time towards their screens. Their various devices have taken over their lives, in part because there have been so many restrictions on what people can do,” said Touchton. “Especially for the first part of the pandemic, people were home, people were inside all over the country, and they had time to post things and think about things that other people were posting. And in an election year, I think it has become more political.”

Baylee Brochu, a junior majoring in psychology and health science, was one of many students who are now more politically active on Instagram.

“Ever since the Black Lives Matter movement started gaining momentum this summer, I have been posting about politics, which I’ve never done before,” Brochu said. “This is a trend I’ve noticed with a lot of people I follow on Instagram.”

Because President Donald Trump’s administration’s pandemic response has been heavily criticized, coronavirus continues to be a topic of conversation within virtual presidential debates and on social media as well. The topic of wearing face masks, and even the validity of the pandemic’s fatality has turned political.

“I think a lot of people who probably lean towards Democrats have been ready to criticize the administration and use the pandemic as a key piece of evidence as to why people shouldn’t vote for Trump. And then by the same notion, people who lean Republican or especially the strongest Republican supporters have used the evidence from the pandemic completely differently,” said Touchton. “So most major party organizations have tried to use the pandemic to push their own agenda.”

Featured photo from Pixabay.