Image encouraging students to snap a selfie of themselves voting

Making Our Presence Count

The Role of Social Media in The 2020 Election

As an organization dedicated to empowering college students to become voters, a large part of CEEP’s work involves meeting students where they are at. Often, that means social media platforms. It’s how students communicate, find entertainment, educate themselves and participate in larger conversations. Social media remains a fundamental experience responsible for shaping how young people move through the world. 

Because it plays such an outsized role in their daily life, social media is an unmatched catalyst for inspiring action among students aged 18-24. If something is trending, students are either participating in the trend or know someone who is. Anything can go viral, whether it is fun, educational or political. At the beginning of 2020, CEEP knew they had to make participating in the election go viral. 

Not alone, of course. CEEP is one of thousands of organizations, campaigns, community groups and influencers dedicated to streamlining access to the political process through social media. A 2020 report from CIRCLE reveals that 70% of young people learned about the election and shared information about it over social media. Students used social media to be in the know about the election, and pass on their knowledge to friends and followers. 

In 2020, social media became a central platform to drive voter turnout, spread voter education and ensure students could vote with confidence. Like never before, students had access to an entire world of concise, digestible election information. Social media, at its core, is a tool for expression, education and influence. 

Beyond voter education, social media allowed disenfranchised students to tap into positive stories of voting. Voting is more than an intellectual experience. It’s also an emotional one. Social media provided an outline for students across the country to feel seen and heard. #YourVoteMatters became a leading hashtag across Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat – the three platforms where the majority of students aged 18-24 are active. 

In March, our relationship with our core audience evolved. COVID-19 rocked the political world by creating an overhaul in how presidential primary elections are conducted. CEEP Digital began to provide rapid response election information for student voters looking for concise resources. Students saw CEEP’s social media presence as a digital resource for voter education and participation, a necessary outlet in a suddenly remote world.

2020 has proved itself a transformative year regarding how social media can become a catalyst for education and change. Boundaries of communication were pushed, young people were inspired and motivated and they turned out in record numbers. Social media is now a verified place to receive information about democracy. This leads to future opportunities and challenges. Organizations and platforms like CEEP can harness the momentum from 2020 and sustain it, turning new voters into engaged citizens. But while social media remains a hub for civic engagement and political information, students cannot be guaranteed all of the media they consume is fact-based. CEEP commits to providing researched, fact-based voter education in the coming years and looks forward to facilitating perpetual civic engagement and participation in the democratic process through digital mediums.

In 2020, CEEP’s Digital Engagement Team had a strong role in empowering the #studentvote. We’re looking forward to what’s next.

—Ellie Sullum

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