[MEDIA] How can social media affect an election? #GE2019 for @ManMetUni

I’ve been talking about social media and elections again … who knew I’d have to do this so frequently? An extract:

Social media is more embedded in people’s lives than ever before – most people don’t overthink their use of digital platforms.

The four biggest platforms currently in use (albeit differently by different demographics) are Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Instagram. Three of those are owned by Facebook and, as Hilary Clinton said recently, “When Facebook is the principal news source for more than half of the American people, and the only source of news that most of them pay any attention to, and if it announces that it has no responsibility for the airing of false ads … how are you supposed to get accurate information about anything, let alone candidates running for office?”

For younger users, Instagram has grown in popularity, although Snapchat still has its place (and has recently been used by the UK government). Tik-Tok (formerly is also widely used by teenagers and recently banned political adverts.

Social media offers portability, availability, searchability, interactivity, many-to-many messaging and increasing personalisation. It offers a space for ‘sharing, connecting and engaging, with an expectation that one’s actions will be observed’, although there’s less recognition that users will be observed by big data algorithms as much as other people.

Read full article.


[WEBINAR] on Digital Health with @DigiHealthGen

This evening I joined a webinar on ‘Digital Health’ from a Wellcome funded project. Here are my rough notes from the session:  

  • Young people are Uusing the internet to check out symptoms, working out what can/can’t do, rather than going to the GP.
  • Wellcome Trust project – just starting – re digital health generation. Emma Rich (sociology/education) and Andy Miah (currently in Korea doing stuff with the Olympics). Also Deborah Lupton – self tracking, quantification related to health, etc.
  • Students, teachers and families are the source of data collection
  • How are young people engaging with digital? Healthy citizenship, etc
  • How digital is shaping how we learn about tech and shape health practices.
  • Digital health – expansive area – instagram accounts re calories, etc. What are people doing, and what role can it be?

  • Health services can propose certain services that people can use, but people can use whatever platform they are going to use – going to use Whatsapp for data collection… not pulling people out of their habitus (less artificial)
  • Mobile is driving activity across all levels – can see this as Olympics, Samsung – collecting data, power walls, etc. already happening in some gyms, etc.

  • What data are people comfortable collecting, and what data are they comfortable sharing amongst themselves? Can create degrees of anxiety if not physically active… [Sounds like fitness evangelism….] Intimately connected to mobile devices.
  • This project is particularly interested in ‘healthy lifestyle’ technologies, rather than medical tools that e.g. track glucose … Exponential growth – difficult to navigate the range – 165k+
  • Health knowledge being produced via digital media, can also produce own health data about themselves – where does that go, decisions about future healthcare/ insurance, etc. What impact does that have on self-identity, health behaviours, etc.

  • Project came as a result of concerns about the growth of health technology, and how affecting young people’s health, etc. Data from local schools, what age, what technology, what media do they find most helpful, etc. 8-11 year old owning first digital device, though access before that…


  • Now into 2nd phase, going into 3rd phase, going into more in-depth work, ethical issues re reliability, know what’s safe, choices about what to use, what about the information they use. 3rd = live phase talking to young people as they use it, design of tech itself and how they use it… Interest in inequalities, and the context in which digital engagement takes place… technology seen as removed from rest of social/cultural context – how do e.g. family shape use, where are they when they go online, how does it shape what they use online… online/offline interaction…

  • Willingness to share (quite private) data, subjects of surveillance (what choices do they have about data being collected about them)… e.g. through digital toys – see Ben Williamson… using mobile to learn about health, but 52% survey participants were using an app to track their diet/fitness in some way – Instagram and Snapchat favourite platforms to learn about health…
  • Challenge/opportunity – who are people prepared to share data with … relations of power, who has access, etc who shares devices with other people, access/literacy/inequality… Concerns re coercion, questions about social justice – e.g. if can only get health insurance if sharing physical activity … already a live issue…

  • Area becoming increasingly complicated/expansive in its breadth. AI seen as the solution to much for the NHS? FDA approved a digital drug – medication with sensors in it – tells people how that drug is working! Questions about who owns data, what we can do with our data, etc. esp as we are limited in our access to data. Do younger generation feel more empowered, or co-erced into that world…

  • Do people go onto these kind of apps from ‘tabula rasa’ – or because they have a problem? What are the motivations – v. different – wide range. With young people … typically an issue/concern will look to digital fora for a solution.
  • Do young people share more than older people? Makes people more confident to go to GP, etc. Young people = normalised = used to tracking, engaging, etc. online, so health is not an unusual area for that …
  • Mobile devices are normalised, part of everyday life, but schools are pushing people away from using that… Schools may be using apps instead of other resources (e.g. mental health app) – how are they being drawn in in ways they haven’t before…
  • Cultural divide … secondary school now – grown up with iPhones, but teachers haven’t… A year away from digital, and it’s all changed…
  • How do you deal with the fact that major things may be missed? A lot of work connecting patient groups together … support groups = adult things, what do they do under 18s to find support? What about benefitting from the insights from 1000s of drs, rather than one human dr … long shift to go there.. NHS able to keep up with the use of this data, etc.?
  • Fatigue/boredom, 6 weeks on, people tend to abandon all kinds of apps… BIG question – ownership of own data, etc… Some only see it as needing a lock on the phone, rather than the bigger picture of what happens to data, etc.
  • More data of different kinds, can increase anxiety amongst users … difficult for many of us to make sense of what that data means… e.g. labelling overweight, etc. damaging for young people, lead to crash diets, etc. Challenging issue for the future – so many apps, and some collecting data before we even choose to do so.
  • Sleep, food, activity levels, etc every part of our life can be quantified in some way.
  • Fake news/health – aware of it becoming a big issue in last 18 months … not looked explicitly. Health related info e.g. fitness, nutrition, etc. are a significant source of fake news… diet, etc massively contested before we even get to the digital, so a challenging environment to be in ..
  • Young people reducing time going to websites, spending more time on apps, data policies unclear on how shared, etc. locked into certain spaces… Don’t know about the journey that someone goes through on a particular app… big gap in our knowledge… Anxieties – young people avid followers of e.g. fitness bloggers, trendsetters, etc. very difficult terrain to manage… demonstrating that you’re the ‘right healthy citizen’ and ‘doing the right things’ – the data and the popularity!
  • Much more visually investigated … journey into information, proliferation of channels, and no central channel which has authority. Big shift about how receive information about all kinds of things – including health, who is the voice of authority in health… [Notion of who is an expert … ]
  • Earlier research – being measured/weighed – led to hyper (self) surveillance … comparing/contrasting – ways of standing out … thinnest, healthiest, etc.. Heavily moralised…
  • As healthcare becomes more reliant on data, becomes locked into propriety systems, difficult to get out once in them … old fitbits chucked in a drawer! How to access own data, and what is happening to their data … will young people rise up and not share data any more – ‘this is the way of life’..
  • Where does the individual fit in that, where are govt discussions, etc. Priority access to healthcare if a ‘diligent healthy citizen’!
  • Should the NHS be central to digital health – is there enough joined up thinking, do they understand the issues, or are we going to have to hand data over to private companies. NHS tech challenged = not a secret! Big data companies have worked out how to make platforms that are easy to use, etc. – much more agile than NHS that tends to make use of tech just as it’s becoming redundant.. are we going to engage with health information differently?
  • Interesting – some young people still looking to the NHS for guidance…. Still the kitemark/rubber stamp.. not a library of recommended apps.. Reviewed policy documents re digital health, limited understanding – assumes that digital is empowering and that all have access, can navigate it… beyond whether can afford ‘internet access’! As gap widens, young people will experience health differently… Organisations that might push apps, etc. onto young people – how equipped are they to use them? Digital health = always the solution.
Media & Press Media - Visual

[PRESS] Comment: Youth, social media and the election #GE2017

For the 2015 election Dr Bex Lewis, Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing, examined the role played by social media in the election and considered its influence on younger voters, specifically those within the 18-24 bracket. With the General Election of 2017 tomorrow, she returns to the topic and considers whether much has changed. Read full article, watch the video:

Front page of MMU website:

You can also read the original draft of the document (more links, less edits!).

Digital Writer

[Comment Piece] Youth, Social Media and the Election #GE2015

Russell Brand’s trailer for an interview with Ed Milliband on The Trews is nearing 250,000 views, and a large number of commenters on his site are applauding Milliband for being prepared to engage with the tough questions – and the disillusioned voters. Russell Brand, famously, has never voted, and urges his followers not to bother on Election Day, as he doesn’t believe that voting makes a difference. Statistics show that 18-24 year olds do have some of the lowest turnouts at elections, and that a large number of those believe that they do not have a real say, as politicians break promises, don’t listen, are inauthentic, and ‘all the same’.

Last month, an Ipsos MORI survey indicated that 34% of 18-24 year olds believe that their sympathies will be influenced by something they’ve encountered on social media, compared to 13% of the general population. The New Statesman indicated that they believed that “the party that can best adapt to this arena could be the one that tips the balance in a tight election.” So far, however, the political parties appear largely to be using an old fashioned broadcast style, preaching to the converted, and not really using the opportunities to listen, or engage in conversation with disillusioned or floating voters. Even the Green Party’s “viral video” Change the Tune largely ‘preached’, rather than encouraged engagement.

Isabel Hardman of The Spectator described this as “broadcast-only pretty-picture-focused strategy”, encouraging politicians to “fake it”, and seeking a level of control that doesn’t sit well within social media:

If a party leader is worried that a chance encounter with a voter reveals what he or she really thinks, then perhaps he or she needs to have a think about what he or she thinks.

Young people are incredibly active on social media, including in relation to politics. Some see social media as making the debate more divisive and superficial than it needs to be, whilst others see it as breaking down the barriers between voters and parties: I received a tweet indicating that one voter “have been tweeting my two fave candidates. It helped me make my decision”. In true pop-worship style, ‘Abby’, a seventeen year old currently revising for AS Levels started the #milifandom campaign, social media has been used to encourage sign up for voting, and Sky hosts a ‘Stand Up Be Counted’ space for 16-25 year olds to debate the issues that matter to them. Knowing that others are voting for minority parties has also encouraged greater engagement, with users using tools such as Vote for Policies, and Vote Swap, sites such as COADEC, which look at manifestos from a particular perspective, whilst apps such as Digital Mysteries seek to get young people interested and engaged in the issues of the election.

As indicated in Raising Children in a Digital Age, although children aren’t ‘digital natives’ who are ‘fundamentally different from us’, they have grown up in a time when the digital is an embedded part of their everyday life. Most politicians are clearly not using social media in an embedded way, but as a digital marketing tool, and this is seen as inauthentic. We need to look at the underlying culture, whether traits such as collaboration, innovation, transparency, and openness belong solely to the younger generation, and reports such as the Ipsos MORI Who is Generation Next? which indicate what the concerns of the younger generation are, and what they might expect from their politicians. Young people want to know that they are being listened to, that their voices count, and that they are not being patronised.

We are not necessarily hearing from politicians in bitesize chunks, Ed Miliband’s recent encounter excepted, they are not really engaging in difficult conversations outside of television interviews. Digital users want solid content that they can get behind and share, and want opportunities to feed into policies, with real-time modification of responses. The Greens as a fringe party, are only 70,000 likes behind the Labour Party on Facebook, and only 20,000 followers behind the Conservatives on Twitter. Young people, however, are typically more likely to be found on peer-to-peer networks, and visual spaces such as Instagram and Pinterest, where there is even less political engagement. It’s also worth considering whether the whole ballot-box system is anachronistic – I won’t be the only one who voted via post a week ago, so for me the election is over.

Dr Bex Lewis is Research Fellow in Social Media and Online Learning for CODEC, Durham University, Director of social media consultancy Digital Fingerprint, and author of Raising Children in a Digital Age (2014). 

Note: Durham University media team asked me to write this. Think others beat me to it with similar material, so have posted as if it was the time I wrote it!