Throughout this election race we’ve seen a massive increase in social media posts relating to politics and presidential candidates. At the same time, there are lots of people complaining about them. Additionally, there are other people -- perhaps most -- that simply refrain from commenting on political posts because they think that doing so will only offend or annoy others. This is quite understandable, given that most of us have been taught that bringing up politics or religion in social settings is a big faux pas. However, times have changed because the way we interact and exchange information has also changed.
For example, many of us get our news from Facebook. In addition to adorable cat videos and pictures of meals that no one could possibly care about, most newsfeeds contain countless articles from media outlets like The New York Times and The Huffington Post. Even if you don’t follow those pages yourself, if you have over a hundred friends -- and nearly everyone does -- some of them will post news articles so much that you are constantly exposed to them anyway. This can be a great thing, since it informs even those people who normally wouldn’t seek out any information aside from celebrity gossip.
Along with these news-related posts inevitably comes information about the current presidential candidates, their policies, and their opinions on important issues and current events. As a result, we can no longer separate our news sources from our friends, and our political views become a part of our social lives. Politics is simply unavoidable now.
Although one can still choose to not participate in the discussion, a recent scientific study shows that if one wants the political candidate they support to win, they need to join in. We have all heard the rallying cry “Your vote counts.” Now that can be extended to “Your Facebook comments count.”
Scientists from the University of Delaware sent out an online survey that asked participants to view a Facebook page and rate their impressions of the featured candidate. Some saw a version with two supportive comments underneath the post while others saw a version with two negative comments. What they found is something the researchers have termed the “Facebook effect”. This refers to the influence that negative or positive comments can have on the way people vote.
Specifically, when Facebook users saw favorable comments, or even ‘likes’, in response to a political candidate, they tended to view that candidate more positively. Conversely, unfavorable comments negatively affected the way that candidate was seen. Furthermore, this influence occurred even though the commenters were not Facebook friends or acquaintances with the participants. This means that complete strangers are likely influencing your political decisions to some degree.
What may be most concerning is that these influences on one’s opinion persist even if the candidate under attack adequately responds to the attacks. This implies that comments that are inaccurate or untruthful can still have an unwavering impact on voters. The researchers suspect that this is because we assume that what other people say about someone is more genuine than what someone says about themselves. Although this may be true in a majority of instances, this assumption allows people to be manipulated by commenters who are biased or strategically commenting to help their candidate or hurt another. Consequently, the cards are stacked in favor of the person whose supporters are the most vocal on social media.
No matter whether you think the Facebook effect is a good thing or a bad thing, there’s no changing the fact that it is real. Since social media support helps candidates in a measurable way, it is now part of the battle. Politicians influence the laws we live by, the civil rights we hold dear, the causes we care about, and the policies that affect us all. As such, people should not only be unafraid to join the political discussion on Facebook, they are now morally obligated to. If social media posts, comments, and ‘likes’ can contribute to the fight against divisive and dangerous Republican nominees like Donald Trump, then becoming politically active on Facebook is the responsibility of all of us. So next time you scroll down your newsfeed and see a post about your candidate, don’t hesitate to share your feelings. For example, if it’s a Sanders post and you are feelin’ the Bern, let others know. If it’s a Cruz post, let it be known that you think he’s an asshat.
While getting out and voting is still probably the most important thing one can do for their candidate, science unequivocally shows that your comments count. So the next time you come across a post about the candidate you believe is the best for the future of the nation, do not hesitate to show your social media support.