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Politics through Social Media

By: Sinduri Soundararajan

On March 14, 2018, I closed my textbook, packed my school bag and joined over half of my high school and students across the nation in exiting the building. We left our classrooms to show support for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and to demand legislation to prevent events like the MSD attack from ever happening again. A month of social media preparation and publicity for the national walkout led to this moment. Looking at the student body gathered outside, I was struck by how powerful our generation is. We were taking advantage of our idealistic and politically active nature to make a change that we felt necessary. I was and still am proud of these qualities, but can’t help but wonder where they came from. Announcements on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook had ralleyed my school to join together for this event – was it possible that Gen Z and Millennial social media habits had a greater impact on our overall attention to politics? To learn more about this aspect of millennial life, BuzzMG conducted a national survey to explore this generation’s experiences with social media and its effect on lifestyle and ideology.

Millennials’ Use of Social Media
Social media is no longer simply a tool for connecting with local aspects of our life like friends’ statuses and post. Instead, millennials have harnessed the power of tools like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc. for multiple uses – from shopping to group event reminders to news. These platforms are being used more actively and consistently throughout our generation, with 32% constantly checking social media through the day and 47% dedicating more than 2 hours to networking sites and apps.  According to our national survey, 89% of millennials consider social media as an important news outlet and 68% think social media is a good place to discuss and discover political issues.We are no longer reliant on hard copy news publications, which only 31% use as a main source of news, and instead look social media, news outlet websites, and cable TV to understand current events and announcements. Discussions held over social media have the power to inform our generation about the rest of their global community and vocalize their beliefs through posts and retweets. 41% of millennials have stopped talking to people because of disagreements about political issues on social media – emphasizing the lasting effect of conversations had online, and how they translate from the virtual world to reality.

These platforms understand their impact on our generation and many have even transformed themselves to expose users to local and national news. Snapchat’s Daily News subscription feature, Facebook political group, and Twitter accounts run by news sites and political figures have all helped turn social media into a one-stop platform to access not just personal status updates, but also national news. Of course, most millennials are not using their social media exclusively for political news (31% try to avoid politics on social media) – many just use it to relax, scroll through photos of friends, and follow celebrities or lifestyle accounts. But now, more than ever, our generation is being exposed to wide variety of possible uses for social media; event reminders could be made about a National #NeverAgain Walkout for school safety or a friend’s birthday bash. It is up to millennial users to choose what they will use their social networking sites for.

Millennials’ Passivity on Social Media
While the options and frequency of consuming political news on social media are growing rapidly, our study showed that millennials are relatively passive in partaking in these political media platforms. As previously mentioned,  89% of millennials consider social media as an important news outlet – 91% actively like posts about politics, 88% read political articles, and 81% will comment on political posts. 72% use hashtags to support a cause and 68% have recently re-posted an article about politics. However, when we looked at the proportion of millennials that have actually written a post or blog about politics in the recent past, that number drops to 39%. Even fewer millennials (36%) have attended a political event in the last year.

Millennials and the Midterms
Especially in today’s political climate, it has become more common and necessary for millennials to recognize and understand the implications of national news. 96% of millennials feel it is important to stay up to date with political issues, and 82% feel that this midterm election is more important that previous years. While it is easy to stay passive about political social media, and participate through likes rather than personal political posts – many millennials have made a conscious effort to actively participate in politics through voting. Almost half (43%) of millennials reported that their quality of life has changed in a tangible way since Trump took office, and the majority (93%) of millennials plan to take action by voting in the midterm elections.

There is no doubt that Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and the countless other social media platforms of the 21st century have shaped the millennial and Gen Z populations. Through our study, Buzz Marketing Group learned that millennials are becoming more active in politics and social media has greatly influenced their political experience. While millennials read, post, comment and like many things on social media they don’t usually write them, they react to them. The growing credibility of social media as source of information means that posts and updates carry more weight than in the past. With the world at our fingertips, we can obtain an unprecedented amount of political news, and it is up to our generation to determine how we use it in the future.

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