‘Check your sources’: How social media is used to influence voters

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Tuesday, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose spoke on voter security at the Mahoning County Board of Elections

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – While many Americans are preparing to vote in the next presidential election, those in charge of Ohio’s voting are carefully watching social media.

Social media is used by 79% of Americans. Experts say there have been attempts to use social media to influence voters and sway opinions toward specific candidates.

“We’ve been doing this for centuries. So long as there have been elections in the United States and other countries, people have been trying to distort messages to get the other candidate to be perceived in a negative light. So of course, yeah, what just makes it easier is social media,” said Adam Earnheardt, chair of the communications department at Youngstown State University.

Tuesday, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose spoke on voter security at the Mahoning County Board of Elections.

He said it’s not possible to hack into Ohio’s voting system remotely because the system isn’t connected to the internet. However, he said there are some people using social media as a way to pit people against one another and manipulate votes.

“False information to a group of people is simply called propaganda. The problem is the scale is new and it has been weaponized in a very severe way,” LaRose said.

LaRose said Facebook ads have been used for things such as targeting minority communities, persuading them not to vote.

He said Russians have interfered in American elections by creating fake Facebook profiles and Facebook events to get people from different sides protesting at the same event.

Earnheardt said it’s not just the Russians, but other countries as well. He said the goal is to cause division.

“What we know for sure is that Russians and other people outside of our country are doing these things on social media to disrupt our elections. They really don’t care who wins, they just want to have us in chaos and have our elections in chaos,” he said.

Earnheardt said there are some steps to take when forming an opinion on what candidate to vote for. He said you should always check your sources to make sure you aren’t believing or spreading false information.

“The problem with social media, if there is a problem, is that it’s too easy to click on the retweet button or the share button. That’s probably the biggest problem,” he said.

He also said you shouldn’t feed into false information just because it makes your candidate look good.

“A lot of people do that without thinking twice about it because they think, so long as it’s supporting their position, they’re gonna share it and everyone else should know it. Again, even if it’s not right,” he said.

In 2018, we saw the fall of Cambridge Analytica after it was accused of acquiring the private Facebook data of tens of millions of users and selling it to political campaigns in order to persuade people into voting a certain way.

“Voter manipulation on social media is like big data on steroids. It’s so easy to collect that information, but it takes really smart people to figure out how to break that down into smaller categories and then create ads or campaigns that can manipulate voters into doing certain things,” Earnheardt said.

Earnheardt said some ways to prevent this from happening to you could be to shut off some public information on your profiles, don’t publish personal information and always check your sources.

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