Making false claims about a political opponent is nothing new. As far back as 1800, for instance, historians tell us that Thomas Jefferson’s camp falsely claimed that John Adams was going to take our country to war with France. That probably wasn’t the first “fake news” to show up in politics, and it’s definitely not the last as lies and mudslinging have been a mainstay of political campaigns ever since.
Fast forward to today and one thing remains the same: misinformation and manipulation are still popular tools that politicians and their supporters use with gusto. One area that has been under scrutiny especially since the last election is social media and its role in influencing election outcomes.
While some people might scoff at the thought that Facebook or Snapchat has any real power when it comes to politics, the money and time spent by politicians on social media advertising shows that they, at least, take it very seriously. For example, during the 2016 Presidential election, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton spent $81 million dollars on Facebook ads alone. Now, with the 2020 election in sight, it’s reported that candidates have already spent more than $63 million dollars and we still have almost a year left to go. President Trump’s campaign has spent more than anyone else’s, with a total of $24 million in digital-ad buys.
How social media ads affect voting behavior
Studies that attempt to measure how much social media advertising affects voting behavior highlight how much emotional appeal can influence an election’s outcome. Several studies, including this one, showed how political ads on social media used messages and images that evoked emotions to change the way citizens became involved and made their choices. Social media also gives advertisers the ability to target specific audiences, a practice known as “micro targeting.”
Since the last campaign, we’ve seen companies such as Facebook and Google called out for irresponsible posting of ads that were blatantly false, facing scrutiny from lawmakers and presidential candidates for the way that their platforms are being used to spread misinformation and manipulate elections.
Some social media accounts are not committing to change. Others, however, such as Twitter, are taking headline-worthy action by announcing blanket bans on political ads across their platform. Late last year, Twitter announced that it would prohibit all political ads from its platform. Under their official policy, Twitter said ads that discuss elections, candidates, parties and other overtly political content would be prohibited. For ads that refer to causes generally and that are placed by organizations and not politicians or political candidates, Twitter said it would place restrictions on them but not ban them outright.
Vijaya Gadde, who leads Twitter’s legal, policy, trust and safety divisions, was quoted when introducing the policy as saying, “It’s a big change for us as a company but one we believe is going to make our service, and political advertising in the world, better.”
We can safely predict that this is not the last you’ll hear about social media, fake news, and all sorts of drama as the year progresses. We’ll do our best to keep you informed, but for now we just have to say this: Here at Softcom, we can strongly assure you that our only agenda is to make sure our customers have the internet access they need to learn and make their own decisions – not just for politics, but also for health, education, awareness, growth, and everything else important for their lives.