First they laughed at him, then he won. When Donald Trump was elected President of the United States in 2016, people around the world were stunned. How could a reality TV star become the most powerful man in the world? Could it have something to do with his Twitter addiction? Various publications, from Forbes to the New York Times, credited the incredible power of social media with handing Trump the keys to the White House.

But is that true? Can social media really significantly influence elections? Or even win them? And is the same thing happening in Europe, for example in the recent British elections, or in the upcoming German federal elections? The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford recently presented its Digital News Report for the year 2016. The most important finding of the study was that half of all respondents now receive messages via social networks (51 percent). This is worrying for several reasons.

Some argue that social media is full of bots, filter bubbles and viral fake news. It seems less and less important to know the veracity and the source of information. Fake news from Macedonia received more clicks than genuine news during the US election campaign. Filter bubbles prevent any confrontation with other opinions. And social media bots pump out propaganda.

What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Ferdinand, who believes that people communicate too much using social media. What impact does this have on us as a society? And can social media influence politics (and elections)?

We put this comment to Dr. Ralf Melzer who heads a project on right-wing extremism and populism at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. What would he say?

Yes, social media can influence elections because there are more and more people who are not only informed via the Internet, but more specifically via social media. Limited information procurement is one problem. The other problem is the famous filter bubble. It demonstrates the fact that the way we get information has changed massively in recent years. The trouble is that through social media and the algorithms, people only communicate with people who share their opinions. And within peer groups, opinions can radicalise. People are being less and less confronted with other opinions or encouraged to think about other opinions. This means that a broad public platform is missing for debates […] This encapsulation of communication into individual filter bubbles is problematic and will inevitably influence elections in the future …

For another perspective, we put the same comment to Nicola Beer, Secretary General of the economically liberal German Free Democratic Party (FDP). What would she say about the impact of social media on elections?

Certainly, social media have an influence on political decisions, as well as on citizens. But there has always been propaganda and people who believe it. The number of channels for the distribution of fake news, the volume and the speed of circulation has increased. As always, it needs the mature, enlightened, critical citizen who follows the news carefully and remains skeptical. This also provides opportunities for classical media, e.g. newspapers, because it makes a difference whether news is spread on a random website or by professional journalists. To this end, however, publishers and broadcasters must invest in quality journalism and the promotion of young researchers. So sound research, clear separation of commentary and reporting, faster and more information…

We also had a comment from Milo. He thinks that fake news has always existed, but is now spreading more quickly through the Internet. So what can be done about it? We put this comment to Ralf Melzer for his reaction:

This is, of course, a big question. Firstly, it is right what Milo says: There has been fake news before, throughout the entire history of media and communication […] But social media has multiplied the potential impact. Also the inhibition threshold to express oneself in this way is lower […]

What can we do about it? This is a good question and I believe there is no magic bullet. First of all it is important that we do something about it and do not say the internet is a place where everyone can do what they want […] We have to do something. One must, I believe, do what is now being initiated by [Germany’s] Justice Minister Heiko Maas, in exerting pressure on companies like Facebook. They must ensure that hate messages are erased as quickly as possible. I believe we must develop a social awareness that this is not acceptable. In addition, I believe that fact checking and the like are important. We have to uncover fake news and make it known. This is certainly Sisyphean work, but we have to do it.

Can social media influence elections? Did this happen in the recent British and French elections? Could it happen in the upcoming German election? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

FOTO: CC / Flickr – Anders Henrikson

43 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Julia Hadjikyriacou

    Definately. But lies and promises not carried through don’t work anymore. Neither does not putting people first. Everything is totally obvious and quickly pointed out online.

    • avatar
      Julia Hadjikyriacou

      Well, online is for awareness. Joining a movement is a step in the right direction. Taking your body to a protest is a start. And the way people solved problems in the past was a general strike. But who has the balls for that?

    • avatar
      Donnie MacLean

      Well it WAS Hillary Clinton’s fault to begin with as we finally saw the proof that she and her cronies conspired to “elevate” Trump knowing full well she couldn’t win against any other candidate…and that back-fired bigtime too ! LMFAO

  2. avatar
    Oli Lau

    well it looks like it even influences more the election than the press.

  3. avatar
    Peter Henry Stephenson

    One thing that definitely doesn’t work, is talking bullshit about schoolkids in Macedonia. Why don’t you start some journalism instead of spreading fake news ?

    • avatar
      Silvia Beltrano

      o cazzo, è la mia tesi! Eliminate questo articolooo ahah

    • avatar
      Silvia Beltrano

      la posso allegare tra i commenti, potrebbe essere uno spunto in realtà

  4. avatar
    Daan Feenstra

    I think its quite clear that most people are in fact sheople. Normal, rational thinking, source checking citizens can’t be bullshitted by social media. Obviously.

  5. avatar
    María VN

    All this EU pages are becoming pretty creepy… If politicians and media didn’t lie to the people, they wouldn’t have to fear independant media or social media.

  6. avatar

    In an ideal world, it shouldn’t, but in reality, it does. Social media becomes the new tool in shaping the election results. Someone claimed that the numbers of “likes” = the number of electors, so why bother held real elections? Two or three years ago “likes” used to be the “undeniable” proof of “popular support”. It’s been demonstrated that their claims were highly exaggerated, and the “likes” can be bought online by the pound.

  7. avatar
    catherine benning

    No, the one matter that influences elections is the situation politicians offer the public. Social media is simply a way the public can communicate fully what they themselves feel about life and their daily hopes and wishes. It is a way they can express what they want from the community they live in and ask each other how they can move toward that goal.

  8. avatar
    Donnie MacLean

    Sure it can and thank goodness for this as we can finally share “real news” amongst ourselves! Vive Wikileaks! (y)

  9. avatar
    Pedro Vidal

    of course. it is impressive the influence one can make. Even in news media I dont care about the news itself, I enjoy reading the comments better!! The problem are idiots in there…. but all in all… I prefer to read comments than the news, you get much more valuable information, both in quality and quantity.

  10. avatar
    Jean Charles Branco

    all journalists and marxists give hands to stop marine le pen we all see that. its another reason to support all patriotics and Nacionalists party in europe. golden dawn coming

  11. avatar
    Giulia Gentile

    Media should be free and independent from the Government. In Italy there are very strict rules into force against defamation which impede media to report information. While this can avoid the diffusion of false information, at the same time media should be put in the position to diffuse knowledge and news. For these purposes, Eu standards of free press should be introduced, possibly with trainings and exams to be held at European level. All together for a free press!!!

  12. avatar

    Of course. Social media is , just a media used to tranfer information. It made news tranfer more effiect.

  13. avatar

    Of course, a great majority of the innocent public has no such technique, intelligence and time … to verify and to judge. Otherwise, how come Trump be elected, why UK has put itself into such a trouble of Brexit?

  14. avatar

    Trump used Twitter to win the election and to rule the US because no is going to verify whether information is true or fake.

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