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Can social media sway elections?

10 years ago social media didn’t exist in politics, Associate Director Ruth Callaghan discusses how today it plays an increasingly vital role in how a politician is perceived and his or her ability to cut through election noise.

With the US election primaries still running hot, and a faux Federal election already underway in Australia, it’s worth looking at four ways social media is making an impact.

1. Welcome Snapchat.
This is already being hailed as the first Snapchat presidential election in the US with the app making inroads in influencing election messaging and coverage. So far, though, it has had less impact in Australia.

How big is it? Well The Guardian estimates that 100 million people use Snapchat daily, 86% of them younger than 35, and that “twice as many 18-24-year-olds watched the first GOP debate on Snapchat as opposed to TV.” Presidential candidate

Bernie Sanders is capturing the greatest share in the US of Snapchatting voters, with Snapchat stories and geofilters that allow for mini ad filters that can be added to user photos. Hilary Clinton’s camp has advertised heavily on Snapchat. In Australia, things aren’t quite as advanced — though there is a subversive movement applying filters to parliamentarians, as the Christopher Pyne bunny reveals.

2. Some love Twitter; some not so much.
As we approach the official Federal election starting point, the ranks of politicians using social media on a regular basis are growing. For some, like Labor Senator Sam Dastyari, this is a natural playground. In the past month or so, he’s gone wild with memes, gifs, general trolling (even of his own side) and a cute little video arguing the case for a royal commission into the banks.  But not everyone is crazy about Twitter — account @AusMPtweets, which maintains a list of Twittering parliamentarians, lists just 97 Federal tweeters, fewer than half of all those in Parliament.

3.  Facebook can rig an election, probably.
Back in 2010, Facebook conducted an experiment to see if it could influence Americans to vote. Turns out, it can – by including an ‘I voted’ icon on people’s pages along with images of their friends, it made people 0.39% more likely to vote. While that might sound small, Facebook estimates the percentage directly translated into 60,000 additional voters. Now, workers at Facebook have asked Mark Zuckerberg a tough question: “What responsibility does Facebook have to help prevent President Trump in 2017?” Facebook says it won’t be influencing the election, but legal experts are divided on whether it would be allowed to under America’s First Amendment rights. The short take seems to be, just because you can rig an election doesn’t make it a good idea.

4. Swipe right to vote?
Not technically a social medium but still a major player on mobile is Tinder, a ‘hook-up’ app that has been co-opted by Bernie Sanders’ primarily young supporters to sway votes. Since people can chat on the app, those who #feeltheBern are out trying to win minds if not hearts. You can see some of the slightly bizarre efforts collected here on Tumblr.