UofSC researchers say studies show social media plays role to influence voter decisions

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Research conducted by the University of South Carolina (UofSC) shows the possible influence of social media among voters in the upcoming elections, including the U.S. Senate election in South Carolina.

Now more than ever, voters are turning to social media to learn more about candidates. Political and social media experts say it’s not necessarily a bad thing for voters to use the platforms if they know what to look out for.

“Oh, a huge influence,” says Gibbs Knotts, a Political Science Professor with the College of Charleston. “This is something that twenty years ago we wouldn’t have even talked about.”

Knotts says social media users should read between the lines when scrolling the apps to collect information on political candidates and issues.

“You have to be really careful,” says Knotts. “You know people can post legitimate stories on social media and share legitimate stories on social media but they can also share stories that you know their crazy uncle came up with.”

Among the largest groups being influenced by social media: younger voters right here in South Carolina.

“Social media can sort of help fuel that young vote towards both Joe Biden and Jaime Harrison here in South Carolina,” says Knotts.

Researchers with the UofSC Social Media Insights Lab have been studying the influence over the past month, analyzing more than 46,000 posts and conversations on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and more.

The study is somewhat of “an analysis of how people feel and what emotions they are sharing in relations to a particular topic,” says Kaitlyn Park, Lead Analyst for the lab.

Now more than ever, Park says political leaders are turning to social media to win over voters. It’s a trend she says began when President Donald Trump took office back in 2016.

“It is so important for political candidates and political leaders to harness that power of social media in order to win those undecideds or on the fence voters,” says Park.

For Knotts, he says the best thing for voters scrolling social media hoping to learn more is to check the author of the content.

“Try to look for the source, just because something shows up in your Facebook feed, you know try to track it back,” says Knotts. “Is it really something that shows up on a reputable site, is it on USA Today?”

With less than two weeks until election day, experts recommend using social media but not relying on it totally to learn more before heading to the polls.

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