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Facebook helps users register to vote

Facebook’s aim for voter registration reminders stems from its goal to help users be more informed. | Drew Jones/The Cougar

Facebook urged users to vote and reminded them of voter registration deadlines in the weeks leading up to the March 6 primary election, indicating that the social media site is attempting to shed its negative reputation for being neutral in the wake of the 2016 presidential election.

The move signals that Facebook, along with Turbovote, is engaged in an active push to boost voter turnout for millennials, a demographic who according to a Pew Research Center study hovers at around 50 percent participation in national elections. Turbovote is an online organization founded in 2012 that focuses on “making voting easy” by keeping track of elections and deadlines in all 50 states.

“(Social media) is a good way to get the word out,” psychology junior Wesley Camet said. “So many people use it, and honestly (we) look at social media more than we do the news, so it’s the ideal platform at the moment.”

Facebook said in November that it aims to provide people with more context to help them make more informed decisions, advance news literacy and education, and it is working to reinforce indicators of publisher integrity on its platform.

“We send these reminders because we want to help everyone get their voice heard during an election. We aren’t paid to provide these reminders. We show them to people who are old enough to vote – no matter who they support,” a message in Facebook’s ‘Help Center’ reads.

Renee Cross, senior director at the Hobby School of Public Affairs, said in an email the 18-25 year old demographic has always lagged behind older voters, but turbulent times have historically spurred younger people into action. Cross said that voter participation has been trending up among millennials since 2000, but the younger generations are finding a different way to impact policy rather than just at the booth.

“Young people today are active politically, but just in different ways than young people of decades past,” Cross said. “A millennial may work tirelessly on a cause – say environmental justice or animal welfare – rather than work for a candidate or vote in every election.”

Rory Nimmons, a junior who studies hotel and restaurant management, said that participation in the electoral system is one of the most important things a citizen can do, especially those who are newly eligible. Nimmons said he supports any avenue that reminds college students to vote because students’ voices and beliefs deserve to be heard.

“Whatever means social media platforms use to make sure you’re talking to your representatives,” Nimmons said. “I’m not okay with laws that have passed to prevent people from voting or discriminatory practices that target minorities.”

J. Bryan Cole, an assistant professor of political science, said that youth turnout rates rise as people grow older because voting becomes a habit and people become increasingly aware of how the political process affects them. Cole said there’s a cottage industry of those who want boost turnout regardless of political affiliation, and that face-to-face reminders are always more effective than indirect methods, like a phone call or mail reminders.

“Social media is a way by which people can become politically involved,” Cole said in an email. “(Though) users must be vigilant with regard to the use of these platforms to spread misinformation and fake news. If you encounter information on social media regarding where and how to vote, you may want to check with your county clerk’s office to ensure that it is accurate.”

Facebook, along with Twitter and Google, has been criticized for its role in perpetuating “fake news” due to poor oversight in determining the veracity of what content made it on to user’s News Feeds. The social network also came under fire for allowing Russian bots to populate its network posing as U.S. users, and even had to answer to Congress for its actions.

Cross said that communication with friends and family is a strong influence in people turning out to vote, and that more direct actions from campaigns or non-partisan sources can make substantial differences.

“While social media and internet use can be used effectively, particularly for providing basic information such as polling locations, human contact remains the most effective in turning people out to vote,” Cross said.” The importance of such contact is why we continue to see political block walkers in neighborhoods with residents of all income and education levels.”


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