The Impact of Social Media on Elections: A Comprehensive Guide

The use of social media has been a game-changer in the world of politics since the 1930s. Political leaders have taken advantage of new media to influence elections, from Franklin D. Roosevelt's implementation of radio to John F. Kennedy's use of television.

These advances have closed communication gaps between the public and politicians, leading to political success. In recent years, social media companies have allowed attacks against the United States' democracy to proliferate on their platforms. This has undermined electoral legitimacy, fueled hatred and violence, and sowed chaos. To restore social trust in democracy, it is essential that social media platforms play an important role in ensuring that democratic legitimacy is not attacked in a massive, coordinated and unfounded way in the courts of public opinion. Whenever the efforts of those who deny elections to substantially disrupt the security of the elections fail, they will resort to rhetorical tactics to create the illusion of disruption and chaos. Social media companies that fail to disrupt this theater of electoral subversion, but rather provide the national stage and the tools needed to carry it out, are complicit in these attacks on American democracy. Unfortunately, threats directed at election workers have become more acute and widespread.

In a recent survey conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice, one in three election officials said they felt unsafe because of their work, and 77 percent reported that threats against election officials had increased in recent years. 37 percent of election workers who have received threats reported that those threats were made on social media. To protect our democracy from further harm, social media companies must introduce mechanisms to curb the spread of electoral disinformation. Offline threats and harassment against election workers are often due to misinformation that is allowed to be spread online. Election conspiracy theories, outright lies and even calls for violence abound on social networks and contribute to creating an environment that makes the lives of election workers increasingly unsafe. In fact, the Brennan Center survey revealed that nearly two out of three election officials believe that false information makes their work more dangerous, and more than three out of four believe that social media companies haven't done enough to stop the spread of false information.

Failure to treat the information environment after the elections with vigilance entails serious risks, especially violent attempts at insurrection. As was seen in the post-election period of the previous elections, the incessant spread of disinformation by former President Trump and his allies culminated in the outbreak of insurgents in the United States Capitol on January 6th to try to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power. The events of that day should take center stage in the minds of online platforms as midterm elections take place. The Center for American Progress is an independent, non-partisan policy institute dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans through bold and progressive ideas, as well as strong leadership and concerted action. Our goal is not just to change the conversation, but to change the country. Social networks don't demand political discourse the size of a meme, but they certainly reward it, and the result has been a surprising impoverishment of political discourse.