Event brings in Facebook representative to discuss social media and 2016 election

The 2017 Minnesota Election Summit brought multiple officials and figures to discuss social media in the 2016 presidential election.

Luc Mainguy

Cowles Auditorium at the University of Minnesota hushed Thursday as four speakers took the stage to discuss the role social media played in the 2016 presidential election.

The 2017 Minnesota Election Summit brought the Minnesota Secretary of State, a representative from Facebook and directors of student voter advocacy groups to campus.

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon started the event by congratulating Minnesota for ranking first in the nation in voter turnout in the 2016 election.

He credited several programs rolled out under his direction, including Minnesota’s move to become one of the first states to allow online voter registration.

Sharon Yang, a member of Facebook’s Politics and Government Outreach team, spoke primarily about the civic engagement tools Facebook rolled out for the 2016 election. She also outlined the company’s vision of helping build “more civically engaged communities.”

In his speech, Simon highlighted the effectiveness of Facebook’s voting registration reminders that appeared on users’ news feeds.

“Facebook sent out a single notification to users across the country, telling users how and where to vote,” he said. “On a single day in October, 70,000 people registered to vote in the state of Minnesota.” The previous record was a mere 24,000.

However, not all of the discussion about social media was positive.

Mike Dean, director of LeadMN, a voter advocacy group focused on students at two-year colleges, said he wasn’t confident in Facebook’s attitude of philanthropy.

“Facebook is a for profit organization. Their algorithms are organized to maximize their profits,” Dean said. “We have to pay Facebook to promote our organization.”

Aly Hagglund, communications director at Students United, a student advocacy group, said mobile-first platforms are critical, especially for young people.

“Being mobile friendly, that’s such a huge thing,” Hagglund said. “Minority populations and people with lower incomes use social media on mobile devices more than other demographics.”

During a question and answer time at the end of the event, moderator Doug Chapin, director of the Humphrey School Election Academy, addressed what he called “the elephant in the room” – the role of social media in spreading misinformation.

During her presentation, Yang mentioned the recent discovery of a Russian-backed propaganda network on the site, but did not address the topic at length.

All the panelists agreed education and critical thinking skills were vital, but didn’t define the role of social media corporations in moderating content shared on their platforms.

“Don’t interact with the bad content.” Hagglund said. “You commenting or reacting, that spreads the bad content.”