For months there was talk of an impending “red tide” that would see Republicans take control of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Besides, it wasn’t as certain as some had predicted. As Politico.com reported, with just seven weeks before the midterm elections, the GOP’s hope for “recapturing” Congress was already dwindling.
In fact, after the Supreme Court revoked a 50-year-old constitutional right to abortion by overturning Roe v. Wade, a previously disengaged Democratic base suddenly rekindled — and all summer long there were those on social media who argued it would be a “blue wave.” election day was coming.
Breaking the Waves
As the Democratic wave had passed, the modeling changed again and the GOP looked set to win big. However, there was no wave on either side and that at best there were no ripples. Everyone who predicted a wave on social media from both sides seems to have got it completely wrong.
“Social media is the unguarded and largely ungoverned repository of random thoughts, feelings, conspiracies, speculations and rumors. And once a topic gains traction, it’s often amplified out of proportion,” suggests Craig Barkacs, professor of business law and ethics in the Master of Executive Leadership and MBA Programs at the Knauss School of Business at the University of San Diego.
While it was true that the polls showed some close races, the polls have also taken a beating in recent years.
“To be fair, the idea that a red wave was coming was firmly rooted in empirical evidence, such as midterms that usually conflict with the party that holds the White House, inflation, a president with low approval ratings and a high price of natural gas. gas – along with the specter of a looming recession,” Barkacs added.
So those proclaiming that a red wave was coming were simply following what many pundits already suggested.
“Although social media is not known for excesses of logic or reason, pushing back against such obvious historical trends proved to be something few in social media were willing to do,” Barkas continued.
As more and more people turn to social media rather than traditional media, the platforms play an important role in shaping how people perceive current events. However, these “news” sources may not be that reliable.
“People are prone to follow accounts and news sources that confirm their pre-existing beliefs. This means that people were likely to see news that confirmed the version of the world they were hoping for,” explained Colin Campbell, Associate Professor of Marketing at the University of San Diego’s Knauss School of Business and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Advertising Research.
“Social media rewards those voices that stand out the most,” noted Campbell. “This is because more extreme views are more likely to elicit reactions – either likes or comments – from viewers, and are therefore more likely to be prioritized by algorithms. This results in more extreme views being overrepresented on social media and have an above-average influence on users.”
As a result, social media contributed to the belief from across the political spectrum that a “wave” was coming, even though polls suggested very tight races.
Different algorithms may have led users to believe their beliefs were shared by the majority of voters, when in fact, many of those races were very close, said Dr. Julianna Kirschner, a lecturer in the Master of Communication Management program at the University of Southern California.
“Social media platforms have contributed to the polarization of political discourse because they resonate with the information that users have provided,” he further explained. “The echo chambers that users find themselves in tend to repackage the same political content that users have already been exposed to.”
This can lead users to become familiar with the narrow political discourse that supports their existing views, which they can then recycle into their own social media posts. Kirschner said another problem for social media is the divisive political landscape in the United States.
“As a user, you are categorized as one thing or another: Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, red or blue,” Kirschner continued. “Rarely is a voter given the realistic option of choosing something else, such as a viable third-party candidate. So social media has followed suit in categorizing users through one of two lenses: Republican or Democrat.”
Basically, social media wasn’t wrong about the intermediate terms. Instead, these platforms reflected polarizing discourse to make us believe that one perspective was more representative of the voter.
“True representation is actually more of a gray area,” Kirschner said. “The fault of social media was over-amplification, and our perception of the midterm elections was affected by this feedback loop.”
This is especially true as platforms have also proven to be those echo chambers that are particularly partisan or demographically similar.
“It’s a little ironic that social media, which so often divides people in the fierce pursuit of what they believe is right,” Barkacs said, “in this case united people around a view that turned out to be so wrong.” .