A major factor in declining voter turnout since 1960 has been disengagement with political issues. Only 21 percent of 18-19 year olds voted in the 2014 midterm elections, according to The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. This paltry statistic can be partially attributed to growing discontent with the political system, but is largely due to lack of understanding of complicated public policy. But in the era of social media activism, millennials can no longer claim ignorance in defense of their poor voter turnout.
According to New America, 44 percent of millennials use social media to “like” or promote political material. Millennial obsession with social media activism is so potent that a significant amount of news is now crafted for maximum “shareability.” In the past year, Obama has at one point or another taken over Buzzfeed, ESPN and the Oscars. Sunday night, John Oliver of HBO’s Last Week Tonight not only scored a rare interview with the elusive Edward Snowden, but managed to finally communicate the value of Snowden’s controversial actions to both the general public as well as Snowden himself by asking him to explain the NSA’s privacy breaches in terms of “d*** pics.” The clip immediately went viral, reaching three million views in under 48 hours.
Important news has never been more accessible or entertaining, so how can we defend our poor voter turnout? Our disaffection with the current government is no excuse for lack of political participation, nor does increased activism via social media serve as its proper substitute.
“Liking” Barack Obama, sharing the most recent article about California’s drought or retweeting Trevor Noah’s problematic posts is not the same as casting a vote. Social media is an unprecedented platform for social activism, however it is not the only platform, nor necessarily the most powerful. Favoriting Azealia Banks’s tweets in her Twitter war with Kendrick Lamar may enlighten a few friends within your network of a couple hundred friends, but it will not eliminate voter identification laws barring many minorities from voting. Social media has increased engagement in social activism but only by lowering the threshold for participation, convincing many millennials that posting a status equates to being a responsible citizen.
We need to remind ourselves and each other that social media facilitates conversation, not action. There is no denying the power of conversation to inspire action, but if we do not act, then what is the value of starting the conversation?
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