Social Media & Politics

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One of the most important rights of American citizens is the franchise—the right to vote.

Originally under the Constitution, only white male citizens over the age of 21 were eligible to vote. This shameful injustice has been corrected and voting rights have been extended several times over the course of our history. Today, citizens over the age of 18 cannot be denied the right to vote on the basis of race, religion, sex, disability, or sexual orientation. (

The 14th,15th and 19th amendments have removed barriers to the franchise. The 1st amendment is exercised regularly on social media, the technology with the most amplified voice for discourse on political and social issues. As US citizens prepare to vote in the 2024 election year, they will be impacted by the changes in digital marketplace for exchanging ideas and news. Considering this topic, the following definitions are helpful to set the stage.

  • Social media: websites and computer programs that allow people to communicate and share information on the internet using a computer or mobile phone. (
  • Deepfakes : refers to a specific kind of synthetic media where a person in an image or video is swapped with another person’s likeness. (MIT)
  • AI: Artificial intelligence leverages computers and machines to mimic the problem-solving and decision-making capabilities of the human mind – (IBM)
  • Plagiarism – Generative AI is innovative. They (AI profiles) may cite made up resources. They may plagiarize resources. 
  • Hallucinations – AI hallucination is a phenomenon wherein a large language model (LLM)—often a generative AI chatbot or computer vision tool—perceives patterns or objects that are nonexistent or imperceptible to human observers, creating outputs that are nonsensical or altogether inaccurate. ( 
  • Bias can creep into algorithms in several ways. AI systems learn to make decisions based on training data, which can include biased human decisions or reflect historical or social inequities, even if sensitive variables such as gender, race, or sexual orientation are removed. (Harvard Business Review)

Increasingly, technology has helped to remove the barriers of communication to allow anyone to be heard by anyone. The Gutenberg printing press, newspapers, radio, television and now the internet age have changed the impact of media on politics. News sources have exploded and the variety of voices requires more discernment. Choices abound. Blogs, news websites, comedy/satire news, and social media each present a biased view.

Pew Research surveyed 19 countries on this topic and the US was an outlier.

Questions were posed about social media’s role in raising awareness of political and social issues, getting elected officials to pay attention to issues and even to influence policy decisions. Majorities in most countries say it is at least somewhat effective at raising public awareness, changing people’s minds about issues, getting elected officials to pay attention to issues and influencing policy decisions. In contrast, Americans are the most negative about the impact of social media on democracy: 64% say it has been bad.

(excerpts from Pew Research)

Social media platforms are for profit businesses that prioritize viewership.

Algorithms in artificial intelligence (AI) are used to rank and recommend the content viewed by users. AI is helps feed the increasing demand for content creation and synthetic image creation.

  • AI used to create news content

  • AI used to create realistic images

  • AI used to funnel social media traffic

  • AI used to filter SEO results

  • AI used to create audio & video deepfakes

The fear is that social media may be leading us to increased polarization. Political history students help us to remember that evaluating candidates takes time to research and to verify the truth. Just as there is bias in artificial intelligence, it exists in media sources and taking time to listen a diversity of perspectives increasing an appreciation for the strength of community.

The franchise to vote comes with responsibility.

Who is the source?
Have you verified the source?
Did you verify the URL (website address)?
Have you sought alternate points of view? 
Did you take time to think before sharing the media?

More research is needed:

Research is needed but data is hard to access:

MIT Researchers are actively pursuing this research into news media misinformation. Unfortunately it is rare for social media platforms to share the data with researchers. Their goal is to understand the patterns of the how misinformation spreads, why people follow misinformation and what are the impacts of such misinformation. The potential is that these findings could lead to response strategies that could slow the spread of misinformation. Increased datasets could lead to greater measures to validate news. The researchers are seeking protocols guided by ethical principles and privacy regulations with the goal to protect the social media marketplaces as places for nurturing democracy.

The information ecology produced by social media platforms and the data they collect is part of our cultural heritage. These data represent “libraries” of the present and the future, and they should be considered cultural artefacts that, like their physical counterparts, ought to be “owned” by the people who produced them—which is all of us. We must reclaim the information ecology for the people who created it. (MIT)

YOU’RE INVITED to attend an online workshop on this topic of social media & politics 03.08.2024. Register through Eventbrite.

Further resources:

Deep fakes explained – MIT

Tackling Misinformation – MIT

Social media good for politics? – Pew Research

Social Media Good for democracy, but USA major outlier – Pew Research

Questions: contact Jeffrey Cates, Digital Literacy Agent,, 336.641.2436