Social Media Platforms and Voting: Do Registration Efforts Actually Work?

Registration is one thing, but what about getting users to the ballot box? Per data sourced from TurboVote and provided to Teen Vogue by a spokesperson for Snapchat, roughly 57% of the more than 450,000 people that the app helped register to vote in 2018 actually voted, according to Gross. She says those numbers matter, because research shows that if you vote the first three times you’re eligible, you will be a “habitual lifetime voter.”

But Snapchat’s policy partnership lead doesn’t see the platform’s features as being focused only on elections. The focus on civic engagement, Gross says, must be “always on.” In the future, she hopes to create some augmented reality experiences that will simulate the experience of going to the ballot box for the first time. 

Says Gross, it all comes down to eradicating barriers to entry: “The user experience of our democracy is broken for this next generation of Americans. We are continuing to innovate and pushing ourselves to be better and show up for the Snapchat generation the way they deserve.”

While Snapchat positions itself as a leader in the voter outreach space, it is certainly not the only company working to inform its users. Given the rampant spread of election misinformation on social media, platforms such as TikTok and Facebook have started to recognize that providing users with voting tools and combating conspiracy theories have to be a part of their mission.

TikTok’s approach to civic engagement has been largely reactive rather than proactive, built on data provided by the platform’s communications team. “Our community comes to TikTok to create, discover, and watch content on a diversity of topics and interests,” Jamie Favazza, a TikTok spokesperson, tells Teen Vogue. “While TikTok isn’t the go-to place for political news, we focus on providing viewers with access to authoritative information on topics of social importance, including elections.”

During the 2020 cycle, TikTok worked to “reduce discoverability” of misinformation about the elections, like calling a race before the results had been verified by the Associated Press. The company also introduced an elections guide that offered resources on registering to vote, polling locations, and help with any issues in the voting process.

There appeared to be a real demand for what the company produced: TikTok’s 2020 U.S. elections guide was visited almost 18 million times, according to the company’s transparency report, and banners directing viewers to the elections guide were added to almost 7 million videos.

At Facebook, voting efforts ran much the same course as at Snapchat, providing resources to help users register to vote and monitor election results. Facebook, including Instagram and Messenger, estimated it had helped roughly 4.5 million people register to vote, while roughly 140 million people visited the Voting Information Center.

It’s no surprise that the tech companies behind these efforts think their initiatives are effective. But academics have a slightly more nuanced take: In 2020, the majority of people age 18-29 and the majority of those 18-19 said they got election information from roommates or friends, according to research conducted by Tufts University’s Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), which has partnered with Snapchat to aid the company’s voter engagement efforts. 

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