With The 2018 midterm elections taking place on November 6, Registration for voting is in full effect and in an effort to get millennials and young people registered, Snapchat is offering an easy way to do so. Susana Victoria Perez has more.
Bursts of red and blue stars have decorated the tops of Facebook feeds across the USA for weeks.
“The voter registration deadline in your state is today. Share a voter registration link to help your friends register,” the message reads.
This push for registration from Facebook is far from unique as November and the midterm elections approach.
From Twitter to Lyft andÂ Bumble to Tinder, tech companies and social media platforms have unveiled initiatives to encourage their users to show up at the polls.
Just under 70 percent of Americans use some form of social media, according to Pew Research Center. With user bases numbering in the millions â€“ and often billionsÂ â€“Â social networking platforms have the ability to reach voters on a massive scale.
This year, many tech companies zeroed in on voter registration.Â Last month, for National Voter Registration Day, organizations flooded their social media accounts with messages promoting registration and information about the various state deadlines.
And although theÂ companies acknowledge their immense power, theyÂ stress thatÂ they’re not trying to influence how their users vote.
â€œThis is less about taking any particular stance on an issue and much more about helping our user base understand the importance of voter registration and showing up to the polls and doing what we can to highlight just how important that is,â€ said, Sarah Jones Simmer, chief operating officer at Bumble, an app that aims to bring people together to find love and friendship.Â Â
The friend-focused social networking platform made its first foray into election issues with the creation of its “I am a voter”Â badge. Bumbleâ€™s badges allow its 41Â million users to designate their hobbies or beliefs on their profiles, and Jones Simmer said the badges are often a way for users to decide who they want to engage with on the platform.
Bumble is also partnering with the â€œI Am a Voter campaignâ€ to encourage voter registration. Although Bumble has always proclaimed to be a company that â€œleads with our values,â€ Jones Simmer said the initiatives for the 2018 midterms are more about education and engagement.
Â â€œI really feel like every company has an obligation to engage their user base,â€ she said.
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For Snapchat, the NovemberÂ elections mark the companyâ€™s largest voter registration efforts to date. Throughout the 2016 presidential election, the multimedia messaging app offered users election news in its Discover section, live results from primaries and caucuses and “I voted” geofilters.
This year, SnapchatÂ built a voter registration option into user profiles for everyÂ user ageÂ 18 and up. The company is also sending out custom chat and video messages to those users via Team Snapchat, the company’s messages to users, with additional links to register.
Snapchat also is playing up a variety of election-related content, from candidate and issue videos in its Discover section to the ever-popular voting filters. The companyâ€™s global head of public policy, Jennifer Stout, said the launches are meant to â€œengage, inspire and register eligible voters” of all political beliefs.
Â â€œVoting is one of the most important forms of self-expression we have, and weâ€™re committed to empowering our community to register and vote for their chosen representative,â€ Stout said.
While voter registration is the first step for many companies, others like Lyft are taking it a step further further. The transportation company has made headlines with its “Ride the Vote” campaign, which offers half-price rides on Election Day and connects voters to their nearest polling place.
Transportation has long been an obstacle to voting for many Americans. Pew Research Center found that in the 2014 midterms, 10 percent of registered voters didn’t make it to the polls because of “technical difficulties” that included transportation.Â
After past partnerships with nonprofits Rock the Vote in 2014 and Voto Latino in 2016, Lyft’s Mike Masserman said the company set its sights higher.
“This is a bigger effort because now we are a much bigger company,” Masserman, the company’sÂ head of social impact, said.Â ” … Ninety-sixÂ percent of the U.S. population will have access to these rides.”
Voters can get their discounted ride code by going to Buzzfeed and entering their ZIP code. Codes can also redeemed through registering to vote through TurboVote.Â
Masserman noted thatÂ transportation is an even bigger issue for groups like African-AmericansÂ and those with disabilities.Â To address this, LyftÂ is partnering with nonprofits like the League of Women Voters, the Urban League and Voto Latino to distribute free rides on Election Day.
Masserman said the rides will be distributed through Lyft’s partners, who are “working specifically with their constituents” to facilitate the rides.Â
“I believe that through our platform and our voice weâ€™ll be able to reach a wide diverse array of voters,” he said.
Uber also announced its ownÂ Election Day plan: Uber Drives the Vote.Â The company unveiled a “Get to the Polls” button that will let users ride to the polls for free on Nov. 6. It did not immediately return a request for comment.
“With the 2018 elections around the corner, many organizations and companies across the country are going the extra mile to support our democratic process,” Uber said on its website.Â “At Uber, we want to do our part, too â€“Â by helping voters register and get to the polls on Election Day.”
Getting young Americans out to vote
Many election initiatives are focusing on one voting bloc in particular: Millennials.
In manyÂ ways, tech and social media companies are well-suited to reach that demographic. Snapchat estimates 80 percent of its over 100 million users are eligible voters, and Bumble said itsâ€™ “average”Â user falls in the 18-34Â age range.
For companies like popular dating app Tinder, those users are also the inspiration behind voting initiatives. Tinder Chief Marketing Officer Jenny Campbell said the company was motivated to get involved in voter registration after learning that young voter turnout in the 2014 midterms was “staggeringly low”Â â€“ below 20 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
â€œMillions of people use Tinder, and this year we wanted to help educate and mobilize these young voters by sharing relevant facts and stats related to voting and making it easy for them to register through the app,â€ Campbell said.
More: Midterms: Young Americans not enthusiastic about voting, poll finds
Campbell said 85 percent of Tinderâ€™s 50 million monthly usersÂ are ages 18 to 34. By partnering with Rock the Vote, Campbell said Tinder wants to galvanizeÂ young voters to show up and speak out. Along with in-app registration, the companyÂ is usingÂ â€œSwipe the Voteâ€ to educate users with stats about voter turnout and the importance of being civically engaged.
Swipe the Vote builds on Tinder’s 2016 initiative, where users could swipe left or right onÂ candidates to see which politician best matched up with their views.
The efforts show social media companiesâ€™ concern about young voter turnout, as well as a determination that they can change that. Some, like Bumbleâ€™s Jones Simmer,Â even go as far as to call it an â€œobligation.â€
â€œ â€¦ I think it behooves all tech companies and those that have audiences within that (young voter) demographic to really think about how can we use our platform to close that gap and to get that number (of voters) as close to 100 percent as possible,â€ Jones SimmerÂ said.
Will it matter?
The big question around those company initiatives is obvious: Will it work?
A new survey from the Public Religion Research Institute/The Atlantic found that only 35 percent of young voters are “absolutely certain” they’re going to vote in November. However, it alsoÂ revealed more information about civic engagement â€“ namely, what helps voters show up.Â
PRRI researchers found that those who were encouraged to be more civically engaged were more likely to follow through. PRRI’s Director of Research Daniel Cox described it as,Â â€œWhen Taylor Swift or other celebrities encourage young people to become politically or civically engaged, many of them listen.”Â
Swift threw her hat in the political arena earlier this month with a social media post about the Tennessee Senate race. The pop star’s announcement coincided with the voter registration deadline for many states, and with speculating she set off a surge of registrations.Â
The survey highlighted the role personal connections can have in engagement, according to Robert Griffin, associate director of research at PRRI. He said people are more likely to be motivated by “a friend, a family member, a leader of a community” because “these are people who are important in our lives.”
Griffin said that, to a certain extent, a similar thing can happen with tech companies’ initiatives.Â
“At any point when you start to put up opportunities for people to become more engaged, or just to remind them that certain types of things are happening â€¦ itâ€™s not crazy to think these things would increase peopleâ€™s participation levels,” he said, adding that personal connections are “still more influential.”
For young voters in particular, Griffin said, the “potential for increasing turnout is sometimes highest” just because they already have the lowest participation.
As of early October, social media companies were reporting that thousands of users had registered through their platforms.Â With less than three weeks until the election, every day counts.
“Itâ€™s justÂ important that those of us who have platforms, whether itâ€™s tech companies orÂ as individuals who have spheres of influence, are willing to speak out,” said Bumble’sÂ Jones Simmer.Â “I think we should be encouraged to do so and welcome these conversations and show up.”
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