Social media has dramatically altered the communication landscape, offering new frameworks for individual expression. The millennial generation, 18- to 29-year-olds, have never known a world without the Internet. Political candidates have become aware of the important role social media plays in shaping voters’ perceptions, and how voter impressions can be formed through social media is the focus of research by Jayeon Lee.
Lee, assistant professor of journalism and communication, examines social media’s effects on millenials’ perceptions and attitudes in political communication and the general consumption and interpretation of news.
“A lot of young people are consuming political information and news through Facebook. They have friends posting or commenting on a story; there are likes and images that influence perceptions. Many factors can influence their interpretation of the same information.”
In a study of college students, Lee exposed students to a fictitious candidate and then posted fabricated positive or negative comments from unknown users, depending on the experimental condition. The students took their prompts from the comments and photos of the commenters.
“Their perceptions were significantly influenced by these factors. When you watch TV news or read a newspaper, you don’t immediately know how other people will react to the same information. There’s less social influence in that sense. With social media, you are almost always immediately exposed to others’ reactions. Those reactions are not necessarily accurate or representative of public opinion in general, but those still significantly influence your impression.”
She compares traditional media and social media in the political arena. With traditional media, the political views of young adults were heavily influenced by their parents’ views or their close friends’ views.
“Now you can access more diverse people’s views about political issues and candidates, and if they themselves having no fixed attitudes, no knowledge about politics or candidates, they are more easily influenced by the opinions of others through social media.”
Lee also analyzes who is more likely to post political news or comments through social media. Viewers with perceptions of strong media bias are more likely to post news stories to counteract opposing views and use social media a persuasive tool.