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AI-Powered Social Media Could Play Significant Role In The 2024 Election

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Former President Donald Trump is noted for his use of social media to broadcast his opinions to the masses. However, Barack Obama was actually the first presidential candidate to employ social media, and it became apparent that it could greatly aid a campaign. That fact was further noted in 2016 when the Trump team went on to employ crafted messages across the various platforms.

As the divide on social media is as great as nearly every other aspect of America, the question is whether it will have the same impact in the 2024 election. As each side of the political aisle is so entrenched, do platforms like Twitter hold any sway anymore?

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“Social media will play an important role in the 2024 presidential election,” said Dr. Aubrey Jewett, associate professor and assistant school director within the School of Politics, Security, and International Affairs at the University of Central Florida.

Jewett noted that social media has remained an important source of news for many Americans, and he cited a recent Pew Research study that found that more than 70% of people now get news from social media.

“Candidates, campaigns, and outside groups will continue to use targeted advertising through social media to send precise messages to the most receptive audiences,” added Jewett. “Disinformation campaigns have proliferated through social media despite some attempts to stop them and may have a significant impact. Social media sites are often the platform people use to discuss politics and policy.”

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To that end, social media could remain a great way to mobilize voters and make sure they actually cast a ballot, and it is likely both presidential campaigns will be spending a lot of money on those outreach efforts.

What About The Spread Of Misinformation?

One danger could be that social media could be used as a platform to “fool all of the people, all of the time,” at least via the spread of misinformation.

Craig Barkacs, professor of business law and ethics in the MBA programs at the Knauss School of Business at the University of San Diego, warned that social media has become a prime pollutant in today’s political landscape, which is so littered with lies, deception, conspiracy theories, misinformation, and, even worse, disinformation – even as nearly three-quarters of Americans turn to it for a source of news.

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“Worse still, shrinking attention spans have led to an increase in the number of Americans suffering from headline-itis, that mentally bereft affliction of glancing at the glitz and then moving on to the next shiny object,” explained Barkacs. “Studies indicate the average reader spends about 15 seconds on an article and maybe 10 seconds or so on a video. Moreover, a separate study by the Pew Research Center found that those relying on social media as their main source of news have the lowest levels of political knowledge and engagement compared to those who access other news sources.”

But Minds Can Be Changed

Those most engaged in the “flame wars” on Twitter and other platforms are generally unlikely to have a change of heart, as those throwing the gasoline have made up their minds. However, it is possible that opinions on hot-button issues could be turned.

“People might say, ‘Hey, if you watch the vicious back-and-forth arguments on social media, no one ever changes anyone’s mind.’ While that may be true for the two sides arguing, it’s not necessarily true for those observing arguments. If only one side of an argument is all that appears and thus goes unchallenged, observers scrolling through will have no exposure whatsoever to any counterargument,” added Barkacs.

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This could be especially true when statements made by politicians in the run-up to next year’s election are fact-checked on social media. It could be even more important to stop a disinformation campaign that could be mounted by supporters of a candidate to undermine the other side.

“That’s why the lies, deception, and conspiracy theories that appear on social media must perpetually be batted down. Propaganda and disinformation cannot go unanswered. Vigilance matters, and the perpetual game of whack a mole, as frustrating as it may be, cannot be abandoned,” said Barkacs. “Thomas Jefferson famously wrote, ‘A well-informed electorate is a prerequisite to democracy.’ So, even though social media often serves to misinform, it can and must be used to properly inform.”

The Changing Role Of Social Media

It should also be noted that both sides use social media to good success – so it is likely its role as a tool to reach voters in an election will only continue to evolve.

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“When social media first started to become important, it seemed that Democrats had an advantage because younger voters were more likely to use new technology like social media and younger voters skew Democratic,” said Jewett. “However, as time went by, social media use became more widespread, and many middle-aged boomers and seniors began to use social media as well. And when Donald Trump rose to prominence in 2016, he used Twitter very effectively to promote his campaign and attract Republican voters.”

At this point, it is unclear whether one side or the other has a social media advantage in 2024.

Biden is older and has not made a big impact with his direct social media use, however, Democrats across the board and the Biden campaign team are expected to ramp up social media advertising. Should Biden face a rematch with Trump, which appears highly likely, the former president will continue to display his mastery of social media to generate enthusiasm and disparage opponents.

Likewise, if another GOP candidate is the nominee, we could expect that social media will still play a role. That could include Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who may have to make up for lost ground.

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“He will have to demonstrate that he has some social media skills that have largely been absent during his time as governor, although his campaign team will almost certainly include a large number of savvy social media people who have worked for his campaign and his governor’s office in the past,” added Jewett.

Watch Out For Artificial Intelligence

Perhaps the biggest unknown right now isn’t whether it will be a rematch between Biden and Trump, but rather how artificial intelligence (AI) could be employed next year.

“Artificial intelligence will allow faster responses to real-time events on social media and assist with the microtargeting of voters that is already a hallmark of social media campaigns,” suggested Jewett.

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He warned that the biggest impact could be the use of AI to present misinformation in unprecedented ways – both in terms of quality and quantity of advertisements as well as via faux news pieces.

“AI allows almost anyone with rudimentary computer skills to create fake pictures, videos, and audio that will easily fool the average person and even challenge digital professionals to spot them. A scary thought is that in a close election, it may be a clever ‘deepfake’ that damages one candidate and throws the election to their opponent,” added Jewett.

AI and social media could certainly create targeted messages in a way not previously possible.

“Like it or not, social media has infected the body politic,” said Barkacs.

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