Should political ads be on social media?
“DONALD TRUMP: TOO RECKLESS AND TOO DANGEROUS.” I read on the side of Facebook. “Ugh, can I ever get away from all of this?” I thought. I’ll bet that I’m not alone in my frustration with political advertisements. Whether it’s a commercial criticizing a candidate or a radio ad condemning abortion, it seems that we can’t escape being dragged into politics and being relentlessly exposed to various beliefs and opinions. We live in a time where information is a click of a button away, and most of us, especially young people, learn what’s going on in the world through social media platforms. Advertising is not limited to just products or services nowadays; political endorsements are often plastered on the sides of Facebook, Twitter, Google and other online sites. The best part (I’m being sarcastic here): there’s no guarantee anyone is telling the truth.
As a matter of fact, Facebook announced earlier this year that approximately $100,000 worth of political ads was purchased by “fake” accounts that were reportedly linked to Russian Internet trolls. These ads targeted important issues such as immigration, race, gun control, and LGBTQ rights. Although there is controversy regarding whether or not these ads actually influenced the 2016 presidential election, the public became concerned with the possibility that foreign operations could infiltrate our media and implement their own political agendas. In response to these claims, the Senate introduced a bipartisan bill last month requiring that all social media platforms disclose who is paying for political ads on their sites. Named the Honest Ads Act, this legislation is meant to prevent foreign bodies from taking advantage of loopholes in our laws, which completely makes sense.
Should political ads be on social media in the first place? Aren’t these websites meant to be a light-hearted way to interact with others, share ideas, and make connections with people all over the world? Do advertisements touting the great leadership qualities of a political candidate, or bashing ones of another, truly belong on these sites designed to scroll through leisurely in your pastime? Many would argue no; we already have to see these ads on television, hear them on the radio, and see them displayed all over print media. Can’t we have a break?
Trust me, I dislike the constant exposure to politics and various candidates I don’t know, and frankly, don’t really care about (let’s be honest here). However, limiting what we see through our media outlets is a form of censorship. We might not like the abundance of information that is thrown at us on a daily basis, and we’d prefer to just not have to see it, but wouldn’t that be a way for the government or these large media tycoons to regulate what we can and cannot view as American citizens? Many other nations don’t even have political freedom, let alone laptops or iPhones. We’re extremely fortunate to be free to see whatever we want and draw our own conclusions from them. After all, that is what makes us responsible, educated voters; we can distinguish cold, hard news from biased reports, we can decide if a political candidate really embodies what we desire in a leader and we can establish our own positions on divisive issues, like abortion or gun control.
According to Statista, in 2017, 1.96 billion people worldwide have some form of social media (expected to grow to 2.5 billion by 2018) and 81% of Americans have accounts, indicating this is our new reality. Social media plays a primary role in not only human communication, but in the dissemination of news and information. While I am an avid news-watcher, I also learn what’s going on in the world as I scroll through Twitter or some other social media site, to which I am sure other people my age can relate.
Although it is extremely important to safeguard our laws and uphold the integrity of our election system, I am not convinced that political ads need to be regulated on social media platforms. I believe we all need to question things around us and not trust everything we see and hear, and in order to do so, there cannot be higher-ups seeking to prevent us from doing just that. Not only do we need to learn to fact check before sharing a post or retweeting a tweet, but we also need to educate ourselves on current political rhetoric, not rely on social media to do it for us.
Heather Bates, a sophomore, studies biology. She is a staff writer for Le Provocateur.