In light of today’s midterm elections in the United States, I would like to imagine a new social media app focused on voting. Substantial voter turnout is essential to a healthy democracy, yet with increasing suspicion of the government and institutions which runs the United States, voters aren’t showing up to the polls (always particularly clear in a midterm year). Many states (such as Ohio) have recorded some of the lowest voter turnout rates for this election.
In previous elections, we have seen how social media has transformed the way politicians run campaigns. The 2008 presidential election, for example, is sometimes also called the Facebook Election, in reference to Obama’s use of the platform to engage users. This year, Facebook introduced a button that says “I’m a Voter!” In order to entice voting, Facebook lists friend’s names who have also voted and how many other Facebook users have added the button. This incremental change toward a participatory feature of elections saw significant effects. The New Republic states that, “researchers concluded that their Facebook graphic directly mobilized 60,000 voters, and, thanks to the ripple effect, ultimately caused an additional 340,000 votes to be cast that day.”
I’d like to consider taking this phenomenon to a new level. Backed by an organization such as NPR Get My Vote and coordinated with a platform such as Facebook, I want to imagine a new social media app entirely focused on participatory politics, particularly with the goal of raising voter turnout and mobilizing young voters.
This app would first lay out the election at hand in clear terms with simple visuals and controls that can be used to only display the elections you are eligible to cast a vote in. The function of this feature is to simplify and demystify the process. After this, the app will aim to educate the users by creating a space where they have compiled relevant news sources, video clips, sponsored messages from the candidate, etc. This is a place to learn about each candidate or issue. Instead of opening a message board style open forum, the user is able to take the sources as they will and form and opinion of his or her own. In order for this to work effectively, it must be ensured that there is not a biased picture created by the list of sources that have been curated. It simply needs to be a place where a user can go to easily learn where to find relevant information.
Finally, this app needs to be as participatory as possible in order to retain users. Within the app, for example, there will be live updates and graphics on polling for each state. The goal, though, is to create a participatory environment before it’s actually time to vote, in order to mobilize as many people as possible. The app could have a Twitter-like feed shows trending topics in a customizable list of races and topics. The generation of conversation should be encouraged as much as possible, but through posting this content other social media platforms. (No one is going to give up getting their news on Twitter in order to learn about the election on this separate stand-alone app).
Also important is ensuring that the app gains exposure on other platforms, particularly through partnerships with Twitter and Facebook. The app is only relevant during elections, so it is important that it has a crutch to lean on. It could never survive as a stand-alone product. Essentially, the app is making it easy for less politically-involved users to see how platforms such as Twitter are used for politics. Instead of throwing a user into Twitter and expecting them to make sense of how it works, this app would emphasize clarity and ease of use through a platform that is entirely dedicated to politics. Through partnering with Twitter and Facebook, activity on this app will be advertised on these other platforms and encourage users to download the app. In the end, this hopefully would lead to a more educated voter base which is more likely to turn out and vote on election day.