Since the Revolutionary War political elections have been part of the United States, it has always been a tense time and with the introduction of digital media has made it more widespread. Digital media is becoming for common in daily life. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2005 only 5% of americans used at least 1 social media platform, in 6 years it jumped to almost half and currently it is around 69%.
The increased use of social media has raised concerns relating to the notability of topics spread around. Facebook is one of the most widely used social media platforms, and was also a platform that got plagued by fake news during the 2016 presidential election. According to research done by Hunt Allcot and Matthew Gentzkow, 15% of americans reported seeing one of the fourteen major pre-election fake news headlines, but about 14% recalled seeing a set of placebo news headlines. The 2004 presidential primaries opened the gates for the use of digital media; Howard Dean got attention from the media and scholars for his effective use of the internet.
Although he was not the first candidate to use the internet, he was the first to use actively and he also showed the possibility of emerging technology to the youth. His campaign was the turning point for how campaigns were done. Since then digital media, and technology have become a bigger part in the elections.
Such evaluation brings up the question : To what extent does digital media impact polical elections in the US? Overall, an analysis through the ethical, ecnomic and historical angles represents that digital media does impact politcal elections in many different ways. Digital media will continue to be a big part of elections and it can become a extremely reliable source with the help of technolgy.
From an ethical lens, digital news sources are becoming more common in day to day life. This is especially true for political elections. According to Pew Research Center, in 2012 53% – 59% of americans used social media, while in 2016 it was 69% . Social media spreads political ideas quickly because people can see messages posted by others almost instantly.
During elections social media networks are saturated with advertisements about the canidates, or advertisements about the politcal parties. The influx of people using social media has the potential to change the outcome of elections, which have benefits and consequences. More people using social media means more people are aware, this is a good thing especially for the teenage population. This is a benefit for the most part, the teenage population will be able to vote soon so it is best for them to start understanding how elections work and what to look out for.
The downside of teenagers being more aware of the election is the emotional toll it takes on some, research done by several people concluded “that a large proportion of youth were affected by the election, either emotionally (86% pre-election; 71% post-election; 63% 4-months post-election) and/or physically (20% pre-election; 19% post-election)” (DeJonckheere et al.) The most common reported emotional response was stress and anxiety and the most commonly reported physical response was feeling “tired”, “drained”, and “nauseous” (2). A downside of the increase of social media use is that, in the 2016 election, there was a lot of fake news spread.
For example, 115 Pro-Trump stories were shared 30 million times and 41 Pro-Clinton stories were shared 7.6 million times on Facebook (Allcot et al.). This is a negative thing, it changes peoples minds on the candidates on information that isn’t true. “In the aftermath of the 2016 US presidential election, it was alleged that fake news might have been pivotal in the election of President Trump.” (231). As long as digital news sources impact on politics is misunderstood, fake news will continue to thrive and change the outcome of elections.
There aren’t many solutions to the increase of digital news sources. As technology continues to improve, it brings the cost down of earlier electronics that are still viable to do many things. Example, Apple products continue to get more advance and with the release of the newest product it brings older products cost down substantially. There are automatic fake news identification software being tested, it is promising but will not be able to monitor all social media sites in the near future.(Burkhardt.).
This is a good solution if it has the potential to work on a large scale while being efficiently but this could identify truthful sites because they are using a system that tracks bots (321). The use of bots is not illegal in the way it is being used to spread fake news, but it is unethical. If the software is used, it has the potential to ban a truthful site that only uses bots. Also people could program the bots to look like real people so it bypasses the identifcation software. A different perspective is, to prevent the youth from seeing the news, you can add an age requirement to certain websites.
However this isn’t the optimal solution, there are people who want to become engaged in politics and with an increased barrier to get involved they may lose their drive to do so. Another solution is to require websites that cover politcal topics to have a disclaimer for people who are likely to have a negative emotional reaction to the topics. This also might not be an optimal solution because the owners that run the sites might not implement this due to the potential of lower income. The difficultly to implement these into society without a backlash makes the problem much harder to solve.
From an economic stance, the increased use of digital media is beneficial to many people, this includes the news broadcasters, fake news creators and the politcal canidates. Digital media gives candidates a free platform to express their ideas to their supporters, and get their ideas spread to potential followers. In the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton spent respectivly $9 per a vote, while Donald Trump spent respectivly $5 per a vote (Boaz). Spending more did help Hillary Clinton as she received 2% more of the popular vote, but she spent while half a billion more dollars than Donald Trump (Boez).
This occured because of the strong social media following Donald Trump has, he was able to spread ideas without buying advertisements and saved millions by using social media. Donald Trump spent $398 million on his campaign, and Hillary Clinton spent $768 million on her campaign(Sultan). The big difference is that Donald Trump got $5.9 billion worth of free media coverage while Hillary Clinton had only half of that (Sultan). If digital media wasn’t so relevent, this wouldn’t have made such a difference in the election but because of the increased use of digital media it made a huge difference. Another group/people who benefit from the influx of digital media are the people who make news sites. Even if the news is false they will still get paid by advertisers to spread their product and the more people who view their site the more money they make. During the 2016 election, a small, poor town in Macedonian became an epicentre for fake news (Phys).
One creator stated that he was making 200 euros a month, which doesn’t sound like a lot but that is the top in where he was living. He also said “ The more clicks , the more google ads money… its a clicked ruled world” (Phys). So on the downside, they are spreading fake news to the world, but it is understandable why. The world is based on financials, and most will do whatever they need to, to get the most especially in a poorer town.
You can’t change the amount of free digital media coverage Trump gets unless you monitor it, then people will be upset because you are limiting their campaigning abilities. So the best solution would be to give each candidate the same amount of free media coverage, not limit one of them. There are a few ways to try and limit the amount of fake news that gets spread. One of which being the automatic fake news identification software, which looks for sites that use bots to push their message out (Burkhart). However, this might not work on a large scale for a while. Another solution, which isn’t optimal is to try and bring awareness. Trustworthy advertisers could spread awareness about trustworthy news sites to try and make sure people are at least aware of the truthful sites. This could help the case, but work that well because people will not listen and most likely continue to view false sites. All these solutions could work, but the high potential of failure makes these solutions difficult to carry out.
From a historical standpoint, digital media is getting more endorsed by politcal candidates. More and More politcal candidates are using social media, most have at the least a Twitter account. Digital Media is a free, effective mean to spread messages (Schulzke). During the 2004 presidential primaries, Howard Dean got a lot of attention from the media for his effective use of the internet (338). He was the one that showed the effectiveness of new technologies in elections, since then blogs, websites and social media sites have figured heavily in the discussion of politcal advertising (338).
He wasn’t the first candidate to use the internet, but most before him used it as if it was a billboard or yardsign (338). Obama was the next candidate that used took advantage of online sources, he also was the first to advertise in a commericial video game (339). While this might not have played a role in him winning, it might have a lasting effect on how candidates try and reach their audience (342). Since Howard Dean effective use of technology in the 2004 election, the presidential candidates since him have all adapted digital media into their campaign and made it a big part of their campaign. In the 2016 election, digital media was a key factor in Donald Trumps victory. Both candidates had social media, while both had an increased social media following. Donald Trumps was much more substantial. Donald Trump has endorsed twitter, willingly or not willingly, he endorsed it by he consistent use of it throughout and election and after the election.
Donald Trump personally said that social media won him the election, and many will agree to that statement. Hillary Clinton stayed to more normal campaigning strategies and spent more on campaigning, did not rely on social media as much. She still got an increase of followers on twitter even though she did not rely on it as much, but the fact that she used it shows that she also endorsed that Twitter is a good system to spread ideas. The increase of followers for both canididates show that more people are using digital media to keep track or monitor political elections. So, in the past three to four elections digital media is becoming a main source of campaigning, and more candidates are turning to it because it is a free and easily accesiable source.