As widely reported yesterday, Snapchat unveiled what it says is a bold plan for the November 2020 U.S. election: Mobilize young voters with the use of technology so their voices are heard this fall.
The announcement’s timing was hardly an accident, as it fell on the 55th anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act, which many advocates say has been chipped away by both legislative and court actions over the past several years.
Snapchat said it would work with several organizations, including BallotReady, an online portal that aggregates information about political candidates from various websites. Snapchat will pair that information with technology from TurboVote, a platform that helps voters to register online while providing them with relevant voting information.
The initiative led by Snapchat and its partners follows on the recent dustup between the current president’s reelection campaign and TikTok users, who said (more like crowed, actually) they had a leading role turning his June rally in Tulsa into a bust and the object of many late-night commentators’ ridicule. It’s clear that given recent shifts in voter demographics, along with Snapchat’s claim that as many as 500,000 people who Snap turn 18 in any given month, this plan could have an some impact on November’s election.
“Snapchat has unparalleled reach into Gen Z and Millennial demographics,” wrote media reporter Sara Fischer for Axios. “The tools it's building are meant to guide those specific populations to more resources to help them register to vote and form a voting plan. Other platforms focusing on voter registration are doing so with a much wider user population in mind.”
Democrats seeking an advantage over the current incumbent in the White House may not necessarily want to pin their hopes on Snapchat’s recent moves. A cursory review of the election coverage now found on Snapchat include a fair number of stories criticizing efforts such as the drive to boost absentee balloting this fall.
Nevertheless, as citizens become more jaded while they watch the current administration complain about mail-in voting campaigns, paired with critics’ accusations that the White House is trying to sabotage the U.S. Postal Service as part of this effort, such corporate activism from the likes of Snapchat could not only motivate voters, but also win the company greater loyalty.
This is hardly a new venture for Snapchat. The company also sent messages and even released a new filter for National Voter Registration Day in its quest to boost turnout for the 2018 midterm elections.
Snapchat’s work on this front complements the work done by other companies and business groups. Patagonia, for example, closed its doors so employees could vote freely without a hitch on Election Day in 2016. The outdoor gear company recently joined the likes of Unilever and the advocacy group Business For America to urge the U.S. Congress to act fast and spend the funds needed to secure voting for this November’s elections.
Meanwhile, as the 50th anniversary of Earth Day became one commemorated virtually, one of the event’s founders, Denis Hayes, urged citizens to channel their energies into voting this fall. Athletes such as LeBron James are now funding efforts to ensure no one is disfranchised as well.
Whether these efforts make a difference this fall remains to be seen. History is certainly not on the side of motivating younger citizens to vote. After the passage of the 26th Amendment in 1971, which lowered the voting age to 18, voter turnout surged the following year. But while half of the 11 million newly eligible voters cast ballots in 1972, it didn’t help Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern, who was defeated by incumbent Richard Nixon in a massive landslide — and Nixon won the youth vote. Since that election, youth voting rates in the U.S. have been on a downward trajectory.
Granted, social media and online tools are a recent phenomenon, and the pandemic has forced many of us indoors, where we’ve turned into voracious consumers of online news and videos. And true, let’s remember that social media is also not a reflection of society — if Twitter had decided the Democratic primary, the choice would have been Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, not Joe Biden.
In any event, as Americans become more jaded about how government performs, the door opens widely for the likes of Snapchat that want to be a force for change, not just a medium to exchange photos and messages.
For stories like this, sign up for the weekly Brands Taking Stands newsletter, which arrives in your inbox every Wednesday.
Image credit: Leon Kaye
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's worked an lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.