Home Elections How social media influencers are trying to get the U.S. youth vote

How social media influencers are trying to get the U.S. youth vote

by Sidra Jafri and Nabeeha Baig

Celebrities and popular social media accounts are the new faces of advertising for youth participation in the American election

Young people are using social media platforms like Instagram to encourage their audience to vote. (Omkar Patyane/Pexels)

With U.S. election day closely approaching, online platforms have been a crucial medium for spreading information about each political party and an individual’s right to vote.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, the voting process has changed and is more complicated than ever. Social media influencers have been creating content to educate their followers on the new voting process and why voting is important.

Youth have been underrepresented in the past — less than half of those aged 18-29 in the United States voted in the 2016 presidential election. This time around, companies and organizers are getting more creative with their efforts to get youth participation, particularly with social media. 

Social media has transformed the way we do advocacy and activism, particularly to mobilize youth and to take action with grassroots movements, says Sara Asalya, founder and president of the Newcomers Students’ Association of Ryerson (NSAR)

Especially in the era of COVID-19, Asalya thinks it’s smart to use social media as an interactive platform for political discussions and debates. 

“Politicians need to relate to all different communities and people from different ages. When we talk about youth, millennials, and young people, you have to reach them and meet them where they are,” she says. “We’ve seen digital rallies in social media, events to raise awareness, conferences, public forums, and I’ve seen so many things instead of the traditional face-to-face rallies or mobilization tools.”

Many voting groups used the “influencer strategy,” campaigning through people who are popular social media influences, companies are trying to sway the youth vote with lighthearted, relatable content. Michael Bloomberg’s campaign even partnered with several meme accounts on Instagram.

Another example is Rock the Vote, a non-partisan group whose main focus is to empower each new generation to cast their vote. Founded in 1990 by music executives, they have adapted to every new platform as it developed, in order to stay relevant to the biggest audiences possible and keep youth voices amplified.

“When Rock the Vote started, you could put a PSA on MTV or VH1 and reach 90 per cent of young people,” said Carolyn DeWitt, president of Rock the Vote. “But over the past 30 years, the media landscape has evolved tremendously. So those who have the ability to reach young people have completely changed.”

The group recruited many celebrities who had high profile accounts, including Kendall Kyndall, Knox Frost, Shelly Scholten, and Quentin Quarantino, all of whom have over three million followers. 

The TikTok platform has been a popular way for influencers or “creators,” to use their content to talk about political issues.

A TikTok account titled @tiktokforbiden was created in early October, by Aidan Kohn-Murphy. The account is a collaboration with 360 creators, some of whom are not yet old enough to vote.

The account also has Canadian TikTok creator Brooklynne Webb as a member. She says in one TikTok that despite not being a citizen of the United States, major issues that the country is affected by, such as climate change, are also global problems.

The account focuses on creating content that is informative and sometimes includes meme TikToks to add political humour.

The TikTok for Biden page is also recommended to international users through the algorithm, not just to United States citizens. People who are from other countries have been shown sharing their support in the comment section of the page’s videos.

A screenshot of a Canadian commenter on one of the TikTokforBiden posts.

There are also a few accounts dedicated to Trump, although most of them seem to have been created following the first TikTok for Biden video. 

The TikTok account @thetiktokfortrump is one of them and currently has at least 100 members as of Nov. 2. The videos highlight how Trump has positively impacted the country during his first presidency. It specifically talks about how Trump is supportive of social justice issues such as the LGBTQ2S+ community and the Black Lives Matter movement, despite implementing a trangender military-service ban, as well as stereotyping Black reporters and calling predominantly Black countries “shitholes,” among other instances.

A YouTube channel named The Deplorable Choir, released a song called “Real Women Vote for Trump” on July 11, 2019. It gained traction on TikTok this year, with both Trump and Biden supporters reacting to the video. Some “duets” included serious opinions while others were humorous responses. 

Parodies have also been a popular response to the song, with creators rewriting the song lyrics to be about Joe Biden.

Though the platform is commonly used for the spread of political information, there are no official TikTok accounts for the Democratic or Republican parties. 

While the effectiveness of influencer marketing for election campaigns is unknown as of right now, Tuesday’s election will prove whether all this advertising has made a difference this time around.

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