Gemma Styles: How Facebook's Trying To Trick Young People Into Voting
The Debrief: A study claims that the low voter turnout amongst young people is down to our 'delayed transition into adulthood.' Enter: Facebook.
Photo by Matilda Hill-Jenkins
London has a new mayor, and as the final local election results come in, the number crunches are out in force, letting us know aaaaall the nitty gritty details of who voted, who didn’t… and why not.
Expected among the analysis of our voting habits, according to the University of Royal Holloway London, is a poor turnout from young Britons. According to their study, released last year, this lack of youth political engagement can be explained by the 'delayed transition to adulthood' compared with previous generations.
We’re just a bunch of big ol’ babies. As explained by Dr Kaat Smets: 'Young people are in school longer, start their first job later, buy their first house later, get married and have children later. But all these life-cycle events are positively related to whether people vote. Willingly or unwillingly, delaying the transition to adulthood implies that most young adults these days have not experienced life-cycle events that are important for participation in democratic life.'
I think this makes sense. As important as it is in a democratic society for everyone to have their say, young people aren’t making the most of their vote, probably because they just haven’t felt as affected by their government’s decisions yet. In a generation that can struggle to find jobs, tax isn’t as relevant, and when nobody can afford to move out, housing policies aren’t at the forefront either. It’s a bit of a self-perpetuating problem really, because young people aren’t out there voting for the people who can actually impact these crises – because of exactly the same issues. Hmm.
So how do you solve a young voters problem? Free Nando’s vouchers for every person who makes it to the ballot box? What do young people care about? Drum roll… social media. Like the rest of our over-scrutinised millennial lives, from lunch choices to political choices, it’s all out there for everyone to see. I mean what’s the point of voting if you don’t tell people you’ve voted? (I say this with a fair amount of sarcasm, but then I did Snapchat my polling station sign, really only proving my own point…)
If you turned out to vote on Thursday AND went on Facebook, you’ve been part of an experiment looking into this link between social media and social action; Facebook have again been testing out features and buttons, actively encouraging their user base to get involved and vote. With the ‘I’m a Voter’ button, it was easy to let both good friends and random acquaintances know that you’d been getting involved, exercising your rights and putting big crosses in little boxes.
As well as allowing us to show when we’ve gone and done it after the fact, Facebook ran an intensive campaign this year to get people registering to vote throughout April, ahead of these May elections. In partnership with the electoral commission, they posted messages into the news feeds of people in eligible voting demographics, just as they did previously, in the 2015 general election.
So… does it work? Apparently so! Facebook has been getting involved in global politics for a while now; in the 2010 US congressional elections, they specifically wanted to explore the effectiveness of 'political mobilisation messages' in actually increasing turnout at the polls. They found that encouraging people to vote had a huge effect on the numbers of people that did – and also encouraged their friends, and friends of friends to vote as well.
We’ll have to wait for the final numbers to get the big picture on our voting habits this time around. It’s a battle between a disillusioned generation and our unquenchable desire to be seen as engaged, enlightened humans on socials. One more thing to worry about, eh?
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