First-time voter intimidation
The 2020 presidential election consumed social media platforms for weeks leading up to Nov. 3. Public diplomacy allows anyone with a social media account to publish an opinion or claim fact, and Okemos voters recognized the role this played in voter intimidation.
The global pandemic caused 65 million people to send in their votes early via mail. Although this method decreases exposure to other people in the forms of COVID-19 and voter intimidation, the polarized social media posts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter leading up to the election left first-time voters and MSU senior Abigail Scroggie frustrated.
Scroggie said she thinks political opinions should be kept private, as people become silenced through this form of cyberbullying.
“Social media brings out the worst in the situation,” Scroggie said. “People share their polarizing opinions, but then bash the other side for theirs which furthers the party divide.”
Scroggie said voting by mail was the best option for her as she attends MSU far from home, but didn’t completely protect her from any voter intimidation or people trying to persuade her.
Facebook and other social media platforms filtered voter misinformation and intimidation by taking down posts such as those discrediting mail-in votes.
According to the New York Times, Twitter banned all political ads the week of the election in order to reduce voter intimidation and suppression. Twitter said this decision was based on months of misinformation and ads planted by foreign media outlets.
Passion or intimidation?
Okemos resident Tyler Zmich said his perspective on social media during the election wasn’t as negative.
“When people post their opinions, I see it more as passionate than intimidating,” Zmich said. “There are times when it is taken too far, but people care about who is going to lead their country.”
Roles of social media algorithms
Despite social media regulations, misinformation gets through. First-time voter and Michigan State sophomore Jordan Babbie said social media algorithms might have something to do with this.
“I voted by absentee ballot, but still saw degrees of persuasion on social media,” Babbie said. “My feed was very one-sided due to the accounts I follow and the algorithm, so I can see how people receive biased information.”
During election times, social media algorithms must be addressed to address bias. Senior business analyst for Cameo Kayla Giese said the successes of social media companies like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok lie in the power of their algorithm technology — sourcing what people are interested in, who they engage with and how they interact across platforms.
“The problem with how these algorithms operate is that they’ve gone further and further to generate feedback loops that paint a picture of what an algorithm thinks is the person’s view of the world,” Giese said. “People see their own realities of stories, events and opinions, not because of what they have explicitly submitted, but because of what the system has determined.”
Giese said although she voted in person, she noticed a surge of biased and potentially harsh content on social media regarding the election.
“Especially during election times, algorithms have the opportunity to cause a lot of misinformation, biased reporting and feelings of defeat.”
From social media to the polls
Okemos resident Olivia Greenslade said she witnessed people outside precinct locations waiting to persuade and intimidate vulnerable voters.
“I didn’t let the protesters and lobbyists get to me,” Greenslade said. “I educated myself and voted for what policies I believed in, even though my social media was full of both sides. I couldn’t wait for it all to be over so I didn’t have to see that on my feed every day.”