If you’ve been on social media in the last few months, you’ve most likely been asked to register to vote—repeatedly. But those notifications may be crucial in an election year where Covid-19 has complicated voting.
A recent Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law report found that, out of 21 states studied, 17 saw noticeable drop-offs in new voter registrations compared to 2016. Geoffrey Skelley, an elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight, told nitronet that this phenomenon is mostly attributable to the pandemic.
“With less activity to try to encourage registration, you just see less of it overall,” Skelley said.
In a politically charged moment, social media companies are encouraging users to vote and providing information on how to do so. Social platforms are mainly sending users to in-app resources about when, where and how to vote and then directing them to third-party portals where users can check their registration status or register to vote.
With more states allowing online registration this cycle, “social media calls for voter registration might be more effective,” Skelley said, because you can simply link to those online portals.
Nora Gilbert, Vote.org’s director of partnerships, said that social media companies have realized they play a critical role in political discourse, and if they’re not promoting accurate information about voting and elections, they’re “part of the problem.”
Snap, which has helped register 1.2 million of its 100 million U.S. users to vote this election cycle, sported an election checklist in users’ profiles, voting and election-themed filters and a third-party app from TurboVote that allowed users to register to vote without leaving the platform.
While Snap’s user base is young—the company calls Gen Z the “Snapchat generation”—they’re not too young to vote. The company claims about 80% of its users are over 18, and when users turn 18, Snap sends them a notification wishing them happy birthday and asking them to register to vote.
Sofia Gross, a public policy manager at Snap who leads the company’s voter registration efforts, sees Gen Z as a politically aware age bracket. “In my high school, when you turned 18, you went skydiving,” she joked.
Gross acknowledged Snapchat isn’t built for virality; it’s more for chatting with friends than mass broadcasting. She sees one-to-one messaging between close connections, like how users communicate on Snapchat, as a nonpartisan form of digital door knocking.
Digital organizing is a necessity now because of Covid-19, she continued. “The campaign trail is the internet,” Gross said.
Facebook has also already surpassed last cycle’s registration numbers, helping 2.5 million users register to vote as of September by reminding voters to register and providing a voting information panel with resources from Ballotpedia. In 2016 and 2018, Facebook had registered 2 million users.
Twitter also added an election hub with Vote.org resources and labels on candidates’ accounts to provide context around political information. And Google decked out its homepage with a voting-themed Doodle on Sept. 22, which is National Voter Registration Day.
Both Google and Twitter declined to provide exact numbers on the amount of voters registered.
Reddit has taken a different approach from other platforms. In addition to Ask Me Anything sessions with journalists, election officials and scholars and homepage banners that provide voting information, the platform also ran a get-out-the-vote marketing campaign.
As Reddit users interact with posts and comments via upvotes and downvotes, the company’s first-ever brand marketing campaign encouraged its 430 million global users to vote in real life. Reddit could not say how many people it had registered to vote since the campaign focused on OOH and print.