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Social Media and its Role in the Political Sphere

In this modern era, social media permeates all aspects of our political life and has resulted in a huge shift in politician-to-constituent communication. Today a voter doesn’t have to travel miles to stand at a rally for hours in order to hear their candidate speak. Instead, each morning many of us wake up and scroll through endless updates for the goings-on of political election candidates.

We have a virtually limitless mode of communication with fellow voters across the continent, and in the case of candidates with far-reaching messages, across the globe. At any moment a voter can access several different interpretations of a single sentence spoken by a candidate a decade ago.

This extensive rate of information and transparency has changed the game for political commentary and advertising, especially. Candidates are now forced to come face to face with choices they have made and speak in defense of their actions. We now see not only the manicured politician, but the two-dimensional, human person we are voting for.

In the case of political campaigning, however, it has become much easier to create a smear campaign against opponents. These challenges have prompted a number of conversations surrounding free speech and the ethics of targeted advertising.

Recently, Jack Dorsey, CEO of the social media platform Twitter, made the decision to ban political advertising on the platform, to come into effect on November 22. He cited the unfair advantage of candidates’ more financially capable of micro-targeting as one of several reasons for this ban. This action is in contrast to the several congressional hearings where Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, has been questioned about advertising ethics.

Zuckerberg has spent most of these hearings defending his company’s policy of not fact-checking ads as a right of free speech. However, as Facebook has grown from a platform for connecting with friends and family to a tool for social movement, many criticize the upholding of this policy. In the wake of several scandals including Cambridge Analytica and voter targeting in the Trump election, these criticisms have become more serious.

The new Twitter policy has brought into question not just the ethics of deceitful political ads, but political ads as a whole. With communication between constituent and politician being more prevalent now than ever, people follow the candidates they are interested in hearing from. However, specifically targeting political ads based on nuanced demographics is incredibly damaging to the otherwise curated feed a person views. These ads tend to look similar to a normal candidate social media post, and therefore it is easy to mistake fiction for fact.

This phenomena was most heavily observed during the 2016 presidential election, as many social media users were deceived by advertisements made by opposing candidate groups and PACs. With the buzz of the upcoming 2020 election beginning to permeate social media, many question how this change in political ad policy will affect this upcoming election.

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