current affairs

Social media and the independence youth vote

As the countdown to the 18 September vote on whether or not Scotland should become an independent country continues, social media has become front and centre in the debate, from the discussion of s

As the countdown to the 18 September vote on whether or not Scotland should become an independent country continues, social media has become front and centre in the debate, from the discussion of specific issues such as currency and education, to debating whether to tick yes or no when the vote occurs.

Indeed, for young people, social media has evolved the debate, and, according to a recent study from the OnePoll polling agency and the charity vInspired, two thirds of persons under the age of 25 say politicians could win their votes if manifestos were delivered online and politics would be easier to understand in the format, according to a report from The Guardian.

Yet, with social media becoming increasingly crucial, how can votes be gained, and moreover, how has the debate on social media, particularly with the Twitter hashtag #indyref, affected how young people see the debate on the referendum?

Jack, a supporter of the yes campaign, is a member of Generation 2014, a project by the BBC over the course of the referendum year that follows 50 teenagers leading up to the vote, says social media has opened up the vote, despite any criticisms that come forward.

‘An easier way’

“I believe that both sides are trying their best to engage to the public through social media, which opens up the debate to the younger generation such as myself,” Jack says. “I feel that my open views on Twitter have opened myself to some harsh opinions by my friends and school mates. Despite this I feel that I have also reached out to others through the media and it is a key part of the debate.”

However, Finlay, a supporter of the no campaign and also a member of the Generation 2014 project, says there is more slating going on compared to getting votes. However, despite that, Finlay says he is confident that he can express his views.

“I feel quite confident expressing my views as even though I can’t physically change an issue my voice and the voice of people my age still matters,” Finlay says.

Yet, as the yes and no campaigns continue to have discussions play out on social media, undecided voters, like Raabiah, also a member of the Generation 2014 project, see the debate be equal on these platforms as well as real life.

“Social media is an easier way for people to talk in general and with this debate I feel that you are able to express your views much easier when discussing them from behind a computer screen,” Raabiah says.

Raabiah says however that social media has not affected how she will vote, becoming undecided after previously being a no voter, and says that the debate on social media has caused her to evaluate her decision further. Raabiah says that she tries not to be fooled by politicians and the rhetoric used.

Attractive and influential platform

With these campaigns, social media strategies have differed when it comes to the politicians at the centre of this debate. Finlay and Jack say that the leaders of both campaigns are not doing enough to gain the young vote, and can sometimes be patronising towards young people, something Finlay says, leaders need to be careful of.

“Leaders need to be very careful to not talk at young people but rather talk to them and if they utilised social media more they would be at a level playing field with the people who will one day hold his their offices,” Finlay says.

On the whole, however, the young vote is still crucial and will be influential with this vote, Jack, Raabiah and Finlay say.

“The use of social media is attractive to young people and will play a strong part in the debate, and the views of young people will be decisive in the outcome of the referendum,” Jack says.

Finlay adds that in this age of information and access it has been easier to get information and that many young people will be out to vote.

‘Air their views’

“This is the first vote they have been given and the government are asking them to make a decision that will affect the history of a nation,” Finlay says. “Therefore they will want to utilise their vote so I think young people will have an incredibly high turnout and in this age of instant information it is easier for younger people to access the things that will inform their vote.”

Indeed, as Raabiah notes, social media can have an effect on voting, and it could have an effect on the decision she makes.

“I was a previous no voter and it wasn’t until recently that I became an undecided and that is based on the fact that I was reading many different debates on Twitter and lots of views about pros and cons of both sides,” Raabiah says. “This pushed me to look into these factors a bit more and I concluded that I simply needed more to be absolutely sure of what I was voting for, resulting in me being undecided today.”

It is clear social media will have an effect on the young vote and the turnout. However, in an age where some young people are reluctant to express their views, Finlay says young people should be open with their views, and social media can help with that debate.

“It’s a wonderful system that can be abused like all systems and I think people are so weary of it because of the media but when used right it is the best tool in free speeches toolkit because it lets us share our views with the world,” Finlay says. “Young people shouldn’t be scared to air their views, as a teenager in their bedrooms has just as important views as any politician in Westminster.”

This piece is part of a series looking at social media’s influence on major votes, including the Scottish independence referendum.

What do you think? How much influence will social media have on the referendum? Have your say in the comments section below.