As the election approached, political parties bolted to social media to make their last-minute pledges. I have been consistently told of the psychological impacts of social media upon mental health, but when political conversations are thrown into the mix, it makes me question how tolerant our generation really is. From bad-mouthing trolls to political retweets, social media has distorted my political opinion. Even as a politics student, I feel that my vote has been compromised by social media’s confirmation bias and that I am a traitor if I do not vote in correspondence with my peers.
It is no coincidence that party political agenda is taking a repetitive form through social media. After all, party propaganda stunts are by no means a new feature of our democracy. Their comedy style videos have endorsed satirical memes and captured broad audiences online, especially amongst young people.
Yet, I cannot help but to feel manipulated by these monotonous slogans. Boris Johnson’s ‘Brexit, actually’ has already reached an audience of 3.8 million on Twitter, while 2.3 million people have viewed ‘Mean Tweets with Jeremy Corbyn’. To me, these videos summarise the personalities of both runners; both appearing to satirise their campaigns. Tweets put to Jeremy Corbyn in his video represent only a smidgeon of abuse that politicians face through social media; this is extensive across the political spectrum. Official party twitter accounts have used the platform to recruit young voters. I feel that I am a mere statistic in their eyes, exploiting my vote in order to gain the keys to Number 10.
I’m overly conscious now, that my political opinions on Twitter will catch up with me one day; brought up in a job interview or questioned by a future employer. You hear of the old rhetoric, “be careful what you put on social media”; to which I never used to think twice about. I think social media can be a national conversation starter yet hinder political engagement. I’m often scared to retweet or like any political points, afraid that my Twitter will start to reflect a political bias. In contrast, if you don’t immerse yourself into political conversations on social media, you are made to feel like an outlier, uninterested in politics. But this is far from the truth.
Since social media is such a huge component of life to many young people, it is easy to use it as an educational tool. I have seen a left wing bias start to emerge on my Twitter feed, and although it may seem representative of the general population, I must remember that my following is restricted to those aged between 16 and 24. I am not saying that social media has only had negative effects on political engagement. Social media has the capacity to hold politicians to account, discussing key political issues that should be brought to the forefront of politics.
Indeed, Twitter has promoted healthy discussion too, providing a platform to the voices of young people that would have otherwise been ignored in the classroom. The case for climate change, for instance, has highlighted social media’s ability to captivate mass engagement. Social media influencers and political activists have used the tool to manifest change. However, celebrity endorsement of a political party has hindered my decision. Artists like Stormzy, Liam Gallagher and Lily Allen have essentially driven their followers to vote Labour, whilst Georgia Toffolo, Alan Sugar and Rod Stewart have backed the Conservative Party.
Snapchat has recently become a new target for political advertisers to target the youth vote. Its 200 million active users are a political objective, to encourage voter engagement and intertwine politics into daily activities. Jeremy Corbyn’s Q&A with Snap Me appeared on my Snapchat discovery during the election period, while Boris Johnson redirected viewers towards his campaign video. Vice has used the platform to hold debates with young voters, discussing issues like climate change, education, the NHS and Brexit. Their coverage of the 2019 General Election has stimulated engagement amongst young people, encouraging them to voice their own opinion on the ballot paper, and not reflect the opinion of their peers.
However, what all of these social media platforms have in common, is that they give birth to a generation of keyboard warriors. Individuals hide behind their phone screens, making remarks that they would never have the confidence to say eye to eye. I’ve since realised the importance of conversing outside of social media, face to face, in the real world.
I ultimately believe my ability to vote based on individual rational choice has been jeopardised. But this is not to say that my vote is not my own. Young people should be aware that social media does not control your morals, indeed it places them into question, yet it doesn’t create them. Social media is impersonal and emotional, however it is also a conversation starter for those who have lost their voices amongst millions of voters.
However, where can we as young people find unbiased sources to conduct political research prior to voting? Manifestos are compromised lies and the mainstream media usually has an attachment to a political bias. With media intentional spins and supposed mistakes like the one below, how can people blame the youth for their distrust in politicians?
I voted for the first time in December, hoping that Twitter will see politics eradicated from its feed the next day. I want to return to optimism, and not be so critical of social media’s biases on a day to day basis. I hope that we can move forward in political discussion, in order to make politics a ‘conversation, not an argument’ and not allowing political orientation to define us as young people.
Written by Isabelle Matthews