Politics Among College Students and the Impact of Social Media


Submitted by Jacob Nessel

YAL members sitting in on a meeting discussing political liberty.

Leah Burtscher

In today’s society it is often perceived that the American political atmosphere has entered foreign territory due to the emergence of social media. Today when asked where college students get most of their news, Twitter or Instagram were the top answers. Students find this difficult and confusing because the news posted on their timelines most often is one sided. Students feel it is toxic for young people to be bombarded with opposing political views and statements over the internet. In order for students to gain an educated perspective on political issues, their university must be seen as a safe space to speak openly about political opinions.

After the 2016 election social media gained a political presence that it had never had before. From President Donald Trump’s controversial tweets to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ calls to action, there is no escaping from political statements over the internet.

In the past four years, many believe there has been an emergence of a new type of politics. One that deals with two extreme opposing ideas. Ever since the fight for office between Trump and Hillary Clinton, there has been some stigmas that the republican and democratic parties have been opposing each other arguably more than ever, at least in the modern era of America.

Based on various responses when asking students on campus where they get their news, it was overwhelmingly notable that the internet plays a huge role in the gradual separation of opposing political views among parties. With the constant bashing and harassing over social media college students find it hard to decipher between all of the hate and make educated opinions for themselves.

“Social media is everything in how students receive and process politics. A lot of times, it comes down to which pundit reaches their feed first with a good sound byte when they’re younger. If the first political commentator you follow on Twitter is right wing, then you almost become absorbed by that world and most of your views will be shaped by those accounts. Conversely, if your aunt and uncle post about their unions on Facebook when you’re younger, you’re likely to be supportive of unions. Another side to getting news from social media is what is left out and what is included. It’s hard to talk about the intricacies of foreign policy in 240 characters; it’s much easier to make fun of your opponents,” international political studies and international business major Owen McManus said.

McManus continues, “On the other hand, social media gives independent journalists a larger platform to uncover details that are not-so-mysteriously left out of mainstream publications. I think the jury is still out on whether social media has been a net positive or net negative for students in regards to political news.”

However, according to Ashland University political science professor and Ashbrook Scholar program adviser Jason Stevens, politics has always been dirty. He explains that since the founding of America there have been strong opposing political views and people in politics scheming for wins. This is nothing new, social media is what helps theatracize the dirty political life making the drama the highlight of the story.

“The idea that we are politically more isolated than ever is simply narrative,” Stevens said.

So what does this mean for college students?

“It is no secret that social media plays a huge role in how students today get their political news, however that isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” sophomore, Liz Welsh, French education major and college democrats member said.

Although most of the political talk online is negative and often derogatory towards the other side according to AU students, students today have access to more political knowledge than ever before because of the internet. To keep from blindly choosing to follow one party or the other however, students feel they need an environment apart from social media to feel safe to speak freely and ask questions.

Jacob Brown, member and president of Ashland University’s College Republicans, said he believed social media in fact does play a huge part in how college students gain their political opinions. Brown also said he believes Ashland does a good job of granting students safe places to discuss their thoughts on politics.

“I feel supported here at Ashland,” Brown said.

Jacob Nessel, president of Young Americans for Liberty (a liberatarian third party political group that leans right), explains that social media is now one of the leading components of an election. He said the first thing students must do if they wish to get involved in politics and understand politics is to educate themselves. Whether that means attending a Young Americans for Liberty meeting or scrolling through Twitter news.

However, it has been said by students on campus that as a conservativly right leaning students such as Brown and Nessel may have the upper hand over some other students on campus who may lean more left on the political spectrum.

Ashland University itself is perceived by many people to lean more conservativly when it comes to political issues. With Ashland’s affiliation with the Brethren Church, many of the decisions made on campus are decided based on religious factors. Because Ashland is a private university it is acceptable to make decisions for the university based on religious values. However, as a liberal arts college many believe there are ways in which the university could improve.

For example, a controversial topic on campus was how the board almost did not charter Eagles for Pride in early 2019 because it simply did not align with Brethren Church values among.

The political science honors program is also often seen as close minded according to students due to the lack of left leaning speakers at their hosted events, such as colloquiums and luncheons. Although there is nothing wrong with bringing in conservative speakers, many members of the scholar program wish they would invite speakers for students to hear from a more liberal voice.

Despite some concerns, most students do think the university does a decent job in regard to making students feel welcome despite their political ideologies.

“Ashland has an exceptionally warm and vibrant political community here on campus. There’s a club here for just about anyone who wants to get involved. There isn’t any bad blood between the clubs either, everyone gets along and no one is shamed for joining a certain group. That’s a sentiment I think most everyone involved in politics on campus to agree with, too,” McManus said.

One of the biggest differences between millenials and gen-z with previous generations is the ratio of registered voters. It is difficult for college students today see the impact their vote can make. The first step in making change in the political realm is gaining knowledge and education on the hot topics being discussed. Stevens however explained how voting is not the number one responsibility as a citizen, but rather just one aspect of it.

To be a good citizen, according to Stevens, you must follow the law and treat others how you wish to be treated.

Although social media has its downfalls, students have more information at their fingertips than ever. Whether they take that information and use it to simply gain enough knowledge to confidently vote at the next election, or to use that information to help induce change at a lacking university. Either way there is a bright future for politics in the generations to come from both the phone screen and those holding it.

Times change and technology changes with it. Just as the television took a wide audience from radio and print in regards to the news industry, social media is simply the new kid on the block. Social media is a great way for students to be exposed to political rhetoric, but having an inclusive campus will allow young voters the opportunity to express their thoughts freely.