by Alison Standish, COLUMNIST
31 October 2018
Millennials and Gen Z’ers will be the foundation of the midterm elections on November 6th. Millennials make up nearly 25% of our nation’s population, making them America’s largest current generation, according to an article published by Brookings. In addition, millennials have been cited as the nation’s most diverse adult generation: 44% are minorities.
The oldest Gen Z’ers are only 23, so most Gen Z’ers are just beginning to reach the voting age, but a survey done by CIRCLE shows that 34% of Gen Z’ers said that they are “extremely likely” to vote in the midterm elections. Another survey of a cross-section of Gen Z’ers published by the Public Religion Research Institute shows that many Gen Z’ers are unhappy with the political state of America, with 72% reporting that they are unhappy with our nation’s president.
Young adults in America have voices that need to be heard . But in order to make our voices heard, to make our votes count, and to make the changes that we feel are needed, we first need to be aware of what’s happening in our country. The rise of social media news consumption, coupled with the alarming amount of teens that spend considerable amounts of time on such sites, makes for a potentially uninformed populace. It’s safe to say that some of America’s loudest voices aren’t as educated in politics as they could be.
According to recent statistics published by Pew Research Center in September 2018, two-thirds of American adults get at least some of their news from social media, and 57% of social media news consumers believe that the news they see on social media is largely inaccurate.
It might seem contradictory to state that social media contributes to an uninformed generation. After all, social media is our link to the world around us. It is our way of knowing what’s happening. However, once we consider which social media sites are the most popular among teenagers and analyze their content, the evidence says just the opposite. The most commonly used social media sites are not the most reliable in terms of political news coverage.
According to an article by Business Insider, the majority of teenagers interviewed reported that they obtain most of their news from Snapchat or Twitter. This statistic is also seen in the study by Pew Research Center, where 75% of Snapchat users and 31% of Twitter users are said to be between the ages of 18-29.
Snapchat does feature political news coverage in the form of Snapchat stories from outlets such as CNN, New York Post, and the Washington Post as well as a daily news rundown on a show called “Stay Tuned.” But these stories are extremely brief, giving little to no in-depth context or background on political events. They are also buried underneath all the pointless and meaningless “news coverage” that litters the app’s discover page, some of which being:
“Can You Guess the Celeb Behind These Sexy Glitter Abs?” –Cosmopolitan
“If Your Friendship Has Survived THIS Then It’s Going To Last Forever” — Buzzfeed
“Kim is Bali beach babe” — Daily Mail
“Candy Corn: Amazing Or Disgusting?” — New York Post
“How a pumpkin farmer stirred up marijuana drama in California” –The Washington Post
“Scientists just found the oldest chocolate” — CBS News
“Every Halloween Costume the Kardashians Have Ever Worn” — People
(Taken from Snapchat’s “Discover” page on 10/31/18.)
These articles are irrelevant, unnecessary, and just plain garbage, yet this is the information that’s most readily accessible to any Snapchat user.
If teenagers are getting most of their news by taking in small tidbits of information from sites like Snapchat and Twitter … there’s an increasingly high chance that one of America’s most influential generations is uninformed on the news and politics that they need to know …
While the biggest problem with Snapchat may be its large amount of unnecessary articles and its overload of content that is clearly designed solely for entertainment, Twitter is in a whole different league. Most of its content is based on subjective opinions expressed through tweets, which contributes to its tendency to quickly spread false information.
A study conducted by Stanford University in 2016 gathered data from over 7,800 students. In one section of the survey, the researchers showed college students a tweet by MoveOn.org. The tweet read: “New Polling shows the @NRA is out of touch with gun owners and their own members” and was accompanied by a link. The students were asked to evaluate the information and to decide whether or not it was credible.
Less than one-third of the students saw the political agenda of MoveOn to be a reason for slight skepticism, only a few students realized that the poll was conducted by a credible polling firm, and less than half of the students even clicked on the link to the poll before evaluating the information at hand.
Twitter, as well as the rest of social media, is unique in the sense that anyone can post anything they want. People can tweet out information that is misleading, irrelevant, or just purely false. This was especially prominent during the 2016 election when Twitter bots and Fake News accounts were extremely salient.
It’s no secret that the landscape of American news has changed drastically and that newspapers, TV news, and online news networks have been almost completely taken over by the internet and social media. There’s nothing wrong with the internet but there is something wrong with the way we’ve grown to use it. It’s a gigantic forum of information, easily accessible by anyone who wants to know anything, yet many Americans don’t take advantage of it.
If teenagers are getting most of their news by taking in small tidbits of information from sites like Snapchat and Twitter — sites that are not always reliable in the quality and credibility of their content — there’s an increasingly high chance that one of America’s most influential generations is uninformed on the news and politics that they need to know in order to make well thought out decisions in the upcoming election.
The solution to the problem is simple. Though our ways of obtaining news have changed, we can use these changes to our advantage. The internet is full of credible sources and factual information that can easily be accessed by anyone who takes the time to fact check the tweets, snaps, and photos they see online. These sources include, but are not limited to, outlets such as BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), NPR (National Public Radio), ABC (American Broadcasting Company), and The Wall Street Journal.
Apps such as Apple News or Google News can provide access to a variety of articles from such sources, as well as many others, to give readers a balanced and informed perspective. Podcasts created by networks such as NPR or ABC give informative rundowns on the news of the day. Credible news is easy to find when you look for it.
Let’s use the incredible diversity found within credible articles on reliable news networks to develop our opinions. The press is not the enemy of the people, but the people can become the enemy of democracy if they make important decisions and develop opinions based on unreliable information. No matter what side you’re on this November, it’s important to use the right sources and find factual, dependable information.
It might be time-consuming to stay informed, but doing so is the duty of a responsible American.
Alison Standish is a columnist for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl.