Written and Edited by: Jenna Danielson, Jennifer Gillern, James Gordon, Marissa Marchese, Jonathan Fritz, Lillian McCann, Nicholas Detulleo, and Kevin Hoban

Media Creation by: Katie Gehris, Olivia Tilton, Gianna Furfari, Claire Becker, Lily McStravick, Grace Lee, Grace Brennan, Meghan Harms, Gabriella Guzzardo, Tyler Goodwin, and Brigid Bonner

The year 2020 has been surrounded by important current social and cultural events yet more specifically, politics. Gen Z, often turns to social media as their main source of news. While older generations believe social media is detrimental to the understanding of current events, there are many ways this new technology has benefited how we interpret, receive, and interact with information.tThere is no denying social media has its negatives, but it is important to recognize the positives as well. 

Graph showing how or how not social media bias affects GenZ members’ political views. Credit: Lily McStravick

Graph showing whether or not members of GenZ use Social Media to get their political information Credit: Lily McStravick

Negative Effects

Opinion over Fact

While there are several positive aspects to the technologies we surround ourselves with, it can’t be denied that misinformation is a massive side effect of politics represented through social media. Democracy is of course, built on free speech which the internet epitomizes. However, when free speech becomes false speech, there is cause for concern in both the political education of GenZ and the integrity of democracy in America. Research has shown that 70% of falsehoods are more likely to be spread over the factual truth on Twitter alone. For example, this TIme Magazine article from 2016 was used on several far right social media accounts to portray violence within the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, even though it was taken completely out of context. Situations like this one are often prompted by emotional responses to these tweets containing false information. By relying more on what fits in with their personal opinions or morals, GenZ Americans are able to easily overlook the truth in terms of political statements and use them solely for personal argument. 

Mass Manipulation

Social media has been accused of have mass manipulation on political opinions regarding GenZ. Though it is convenient for us to have access to information at our fingertips, is this data being fed to us intentionally? A study done by the Oxford Internet Institute found just that. In recent years, organized media manipulation has doubled since 2017 and not just in the United States. Over 70 countries are using constitutional propaganda to manipulate public opinion. It leads to the question of how independent our views really are or if we are believing exactly what certain politicians want us to believe regardless of the truth. McCluin talks about this problem in The Medium is the Massage. He states that we are constantly conformed and molded, socially and culturally, into thinking and being the information that we are provided through mediums of technology. Parallel to his ideology, we are massaged into believing and supporting whatever social media tells us. Relating this to politics poses the question of what social media will eventually do to our democracy.

Bias Stemming from Social Media

Photo taken of student scrolling through Twitter in order to enhance political knowledge. Credit: Olivia Tilton

Social media has bias built into itself as people tend to gravitate towards others and groups that share the same values and political beliefs. Feeds are driven and reinforced by the user’s preferences and prejudices as they would like to see information that is relevant to what they believe to be true. This is where the true political bias starts to come into effect. Not only do users have a natural bias that they impose on others when they post information, but other countries have used social media to promote social division and to manipulate the public opinion on a person or a movement. This bias also stems from human’s natural instincts to group up, also known as tribalism. Tribalism is a person’s natural instinct to embrace similarties they have with other people, such as political beliefs, birthplace, religion, nationality, sports teams, or anything that someone would define themselves with. This loyalty to these defining characteristics are easily seen through social media. When people embrace these groups, they feel a sense of community, but at the same time exclude others that don’t share the same beliefs as them. Users are biased towards their own groups and other user’s that they share characteristics with. If they don’t associate with someone based on their beliefs they most likely unfollow and dissociate completely with that person, adding to the polarization of political views on major media platforms. This is causing social media to unite and divide at the same time. In the political world of social media,  these groups share information that is biased towards what they believe and reinforces that bias onto other people. Within social media, there is a constant battle between groups as they unite and divide groups with a never ending changing public opinion on politics. 

Limited Technology

Gathering information in modern times is often limited by our online perspective of the world. Cynthia L. Selfe discusses technological perspective and illiteracy in The Politics of the Interface in regards to hardware, but the same can be applied to social media awareness. She points out that computers always use English as a default language, meaning that new users “from other races and cultures who hope to use the computer as a tool for empowerment must… submit to the colonial power of language and adopt English as their primary means of communication.” (Selfe) New social media users in the U.S. only see information from their western and English perspective as a result of their location and that of the app developers. The shortcomings of information awareness can still show themselves despite being in an interconnected world because of the lack of a comprehensive worldview.

Positive Effects

Rapid Rate of Information

hoto taken of college student displaying the use of social media with politics. Credit: Olivia Tilton

Information is spreading at an increasingly rapid rate. You can access just about anything anywhere as long as you have a piece of technology in your hand. Gen Z has taken to social media not just for fun but also to formulate their own thought processes when it comes to politics. Younger people have been getting more involved than ever before in their local communities and political campaigns. In fact, in the 2020 Presidential Election there was the biggest voter turnout amongst the youth than ever before. A huge reasoning behind this is just how fast and accessible current news has become via technology. Gen Z leans more towards hyper attention than deep attention. In this case, Gen Z is more likely to focus on something for a shorter period of time than extended.   With the way social media is built it perfectly aligns with Gen Z’s shorter attention span because they don’t need to go digging for current events rather they have access to it quite quickly.. Therefore, the increasingly rapid spread of information via technology aligns with the wiring of Gen Z. The information is quick, easy, and accessible. This is a huge reasoning why the youth are more aware of political current events, activities, and more than ever before. The information is within their reach, it is increasingly difficult to ignore it. With the fast spread of information Gen Z makes their voices heard. 

Freedom of  Speech

Because of social media our generation, GenZ, has the ability to hear more voices and opinions than ever before. Before social media, it seemed that one needed some sort of qualification to get something out to the general public. Around seven-in-ten Americans use social media. If you have a phone and an internet connection, you can go on social media and post essentially anything you want. Of course, social media platforms have their limits and take down hate speech or pornographic content. For example, Facebook and Instagram have reported taking down over 7 million posts for hate speech. In most cases though, posts of opinions are allowed to stay up. Opinions across each political party are allowed to be shared to the public for anyone to see. A lot of GenZ Americans are looked down upon simply because of their age. Thanks to social media, every single person, no matter what age, has a voice and a platform to speak their mind whenever they want.

Awareness of Social Issues

Black Lives Matter Hashtag Credit: Lily McStravick

Social issues are often discussed and advocated for on social media. In 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement was widely present on a range of social media platforms. Generation Z was able to learn about current events regarding the movement, understand the history of racial prejudice, and discover ways to get involved. Celebrities used their platforms to show support and millions of users contributed their thoughts and opinions to the BLM hashtag. Other social issues such as,The Happy Hippie Foundation, established by Miley Cyrus, raise awareness about youth homelessness and the LGBTQ community. Cyrus uses Instagram to reach her 117 million followers and generate a discussion about the issue. In politics, leaders take social issues into consideration when developing their campaigns and policies on their social media platforms. Presidential candidates have used their Twitter and Instagram accounts to advocate for the social issues discussed. Antonis Kalogeropoulos, a research fellow from Digital News Report states that, “those over 35 are likely to first go directly to a news site via an app or the mobile browser (39%), Gen Z are more likely to turn to social media and messaging apps (57%).” Therefore, Generation Z is greatly influenced by activism on social media. 

We asked (interviewees name) for her thoughts on how technology has influenced her political life as a GenZ student…

Interview of GenZ Video Produced By Olivia Tilton

It is absolutely essential that GenZ Americans are aware of the power that social media holds. By becoming more aware of their online presence, they can become more correctly informed on a political basis. 

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