Social Media and Elections: Everything You Need To Know

by | May 22, 2024

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Introduction to Social Media and Elections

As the UK approaches a significant election on 4th July, its impact extends across various sectors, and social media will undoubtedly play a crucial role in shaping public opinion. 

This blog explores the historical influence of social media in elections, drawing on examples from past UK and US elections. It also looks at how major platforms like TikTok and Meta have been preparing to ensure integrity and transparency in the upcoming elections, plus specific guidance for public sector organisations and charities during this pre-election period. 

This blog will be updated where possible throughout the pre-election period.

Historical Impact of Social Media and Elections in the UK

The transformation of social media from a social communications platform to a key player in politics has been extremely significant. 

Increased Political Engagement

Social media has been powerful in engaging younger votes in the past. For example, during the 2017 General Election, platforms like Facebook and X (formerly Twitter) saw a surge in political content shared among young people (18-24 year olds). According to a survey by the British Election Study, this correlated with an increase in youth voter turnout.

Spread of Information and Misinformation

The Brexit referendum in 2016 is a prime example of how social media can spread both information and misinformation. A study noted a substantial presence of misinformation on social media platforms during the referendum campaign. This highlights the dual nature of social media when it comes to politics: a platform for spreading valid information, yet it can also be a conduit for the widespread distribution of misinformation. 

The prevalence of disinformation on social media is also a significant concern, with a staggering 68% of internet users reporting encountering it frequently. This concern extends to the impact of disinformation on upcoming elections, with 87% expressing worry, and nearly half of them (47%) being “very concerned”. 

Targeted Political Advertising

Political parties in the UK have increasingly utilised targeted advertising on social media. The Electoral Commission reported significant spending on Facebook and Google ads by UK political parties, with targeted advertising becoming a key strategy in recent elections. We are likely to see the same over the next few weeks, which can impact all advertisers as they compete for audiences attention.


Historical Impact of Social Media and Elections in the US

The 2024 US presidential campaign is already underway with the election date taking place on 5th November.

Social Media’s Impact on Votes

Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have significantly increased political engagement, especially among younger voters, just like in the UK. According to a study by Pew Research Center, around 34% of Americans aged 18 to 29 stated that social media was the most helpful source of information about the 2016 presidential election.

Political Advertising and Fundraising

Political parties in the US also don’t shy away from targeted political advertising. Facebook’s ad revenue during the 2016 US election cycle reached an estimated $81 million from US political advertisers.

Social media has also revolutionised political fundraising. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign is a notable example, where he raised significant funds through small donations solicited primarily through social media and email. As reported by The Washington Post, Sanders raised over $200 million, largely from donations averaging around $27.

AI-Generated Misinformation in Elections

Major technology companies, including Google, Meta, Microsoft, OpenAI, and TikTok, along with others, have committed to taking “reasonable precautions” to prevent artificial intelligence (AI) tools from being exploited to disrupt democratic elections.

This pact, announced at the Munich Security Conference, aims to address the growing threat of AI-generated deepfakes that aim to deceive voters. While the agreement is voluntary and somewhat symbolic, it outlines methods for detecting and labelling deceptive AI content on platforms, such as social media.


Social Media Platform Preparedness for Elections

Major social media platforms have been proactive in announcing their measures to ensure the integrity of the electoral process. 

These steps are important for us to know, to understand how they are countering misinformation and enhancing the accuracy of information disseminated to the public. 

Social media platforms have each developed unique methods to address these challenges:

How Meta is Preparing for the UK Elections

Meta has outlined three main measures for the 2024 elections to tackle electoral misinformation and the use of generative AI in political ads. 

Meta’s President of Global Affairs Nick Clegg, a former UK Minister, believes these three measures will be critical within the coming election cycles in various nations. 

  • First, political advertisers must disclose AI usage in creating or altering ads. 
  • Secondly, Meta will block new political ads in the final week of the U.S. election campaign. 
  • Lastly, it will continue fighting hate speech and Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior, including labelling updates from state-controlled media. 
  • Also, Meta’s extensive moderation efforts, including a large fact-checking network, aim to ensure election integrity and transparency online.

The exact definition of what constitutes ‘political’ content under this new system remains ambiguous, and how this will impact the reach of such content is still unclear. This shift may challenge marketers and brands, who have been encouraged in recent years to take a stand on social and political issues, as it could potentially limit their content reach on these platforms.

How Instagram and Threads are Preparing for the UK Elections

Instagram and Threads are enhancing their systems to limit recommendations of political content, aiming to reduce exposure to divisive debates. 

  • Adam Mosseri, Instagram’s chief, emphasised maintaining access to followed political content while avoiding amplification of political content from unfollowed accounts. 
  • Changes will affect Explore, Reels, and Suggested Users, providing control for users who opt to receive political recommendations. 
  • This initiative is part of Meta’s broader strategy to reduce political content, following efforts to diminish political and news content in user feeds since January 2021.

Instagram political content toggle feature for using social media during elections


Users can amend their settings for viewing political content:

  • On the Instagram app, use the bottom navigation bar to click on your profile.
  • Once you’re on your profile page, you’ll see a hamburger menu (three horizontal lines) in the top-right corner of your screen.
  • Now, you should be on the “Settings and activity” page. If you scroll down toward the middle of the menu, you’ll see a subheading called “What you see.” Three lines down, there’s an option you can tap called “Content preferences.”
  • From there, there is a tab that says “Political content.” Click and you’ll be able to toggle between options of seeing political content from people you don’t follow, or not seeing that content anymore.

How TikTok is Preparing for the 2024 UK and European Elections

To maintain election integrity, TikTok has put in place several strategies for the 2024 European elections. They are focused on removing false information by collaborating with fact-checkers. 

  • TikTok is launching a local language Election Centre for each EU member state. This will provide users with authoritative information and help distinguish fact from fiction. 
  • This is what the US 2024 Election Centre looks like:

TikTok election centre example of the 2024 elections

  • The platform is also intensifying efforts to combat misinformation and influence operations, with over 6,000 staff moderating content in various EU languages. 
  • Additionally, TikTok is collaborating with nine fact-checking organisations across Europe and plans to release dedicated reports on covert influence operations, enhancing transparency and combating electoral misinformation.
  • TikTok will also continue its focus on media literacy campaigns and fact-checking, particularly around AI-generated content, and requires verification for all official political accounts in the app. For more information, visit their website.

How Snapchat is Preparing for the US Elections

Snap has announced a continuation of its partnership with, which will enable Snapchatters to check their registration status, register to vote, sign up for election reminders, and map out a plan for Election Day – all without leaving the app. Snap will also be partnering with vetted media outlets to ensure accuracy of the content presented in the app, while  restricting the ability for misinformation to spread by moderating public content before it’s distributed.

Why is it Important for Social Media Platforms to Enhance Integrity and Transparency During Elections?

The implementation of measures by social media platforms to protect integrity and transparency during elections is crucial for several reasons:

  1. Preventing Misinformation: The spread of misinformation can significantly influence voter perceptions and decisions. Measures such as TikTok’s local language Election Centers and Meta’s fact-checking partnerships are vital in providing users with reliable information, thereby reducing the spread of false or misleading content.
  2. Maintaining Democratic Integrity: Free and fair elections are a cornerstone of democracy. By implementing measures to combat misinformation and political manipulation, social media platforms help preserve the integrity of the electoral process. 
  3. Protecting Public Discourse: Social media has become a key arena for public discourse. Limiting exposure to divisive political debates can create a more constructive and less polarised environment for public discussion. This helps ensure that social media remains a space for healthy, democratic engagement rather than a breeding ground for harmful or divisive rhetoric.
  4. Building User Trust: Implementing these measures can enhance user trust in social media platforms. By actively addressing issues of misinformation and electoral interference, platforms can demonstrate a commitment to user safety and the public interest, which is critical for their long-term credibility and user engagement.
  5. Adapting to Evolving Digital Threats: Platforms need to be proactive in adapting to evolving challenges like generative AI to ensure that they can effectively counteract potential new forms of misinformation or digital manipulation.

Guidance for Public Sector Organisations for Social Media and Elections

As election dates draw near, public sector organisations (PSOs) must understand how to use social media with caution and responsibility. Their role is pivotal in shaping public understanding and perception during this period. The way PSOs conduct themselves on social media can significantly influence voter awareness, campaign conduct, and overall electoral integrity. Hence, they need to adhere to specific guidelines that ensure compliance with legal standards, maintain political neutrality, and safeguard against misinformation. 

Pre-Election Phase (PEP) – Starts 31st May 

  1. Social Media Policies:  PSOs should ensure their social media policies are current and follow legal guidelines specific to election-related communications.
  2. Employee Training: Conduct training sessions for employees on appropriate social media use, focusing on political neutrality and legal compliance during the election period.
  3. Content Planning: Develop a content plan that emphasises factual, neutral information about the election process, avoiding any subjective perspectives.
  4. Collaboration with Electoral Bodies: Establish communication lines with electoral commissions to ensure the information shared is accurate and aligns with official guidelines.
  5. Monitoring Systems: Set up monitoring systems to track and promptly address any misinformation or controversial issues that may arise on social media related to the election.

During the Election

  1. Regular Updates and Information Dissemination: Share regular updates about the electoral process, polling places, voter registration deadlines, and voting procedures, ensuring the information is clear and unbiased.
  2. Rapid Response to Misinformation: Actively monitor social media channels for misinformation and respond quickly and effectively to correct it, directing the public to reliable sources.
  3. Transparent Communication: Maintain a transparent approach in all communications, clearly distinguishing official statements from personal opinions of employees.
  4. Compliance with Silent Periods: Adhere to any ‘election silence’ or ‘quiet periods’ mandated by law, during which no political campaigning is allowed.
  5. Engagement and Accessibility: Ensure that communication is not only accurate but also accessible to all segments of the population, including those with disabilities.

Guidance for Charities for Social Media and Elections

It is also important to note how charities should use social media with care and responsibility during the election period. This guidance aims to maintain political neutrality while still actively participating in relevant discussions. 

It also provides practical ways to engage in election-related topics without violating social media or electoral guidelines. 

Navigating Political Neutrality

  1. Focus on Issues, Not Parties: Centre discussions on how policies impact your cause, avoiding endorsement or criticism of political parties or candidates.
  2. Educational Content: Share factual information related to your cause, such as the impacts of legislation, without expressing political biases.
  3. Civic Engagement: Encourage activities like voter registration, ensuring you do not lean towards any political side.
  4. Avoid Partisan Language: Use neutral language that doesn’t imply support for or against any political entity.
  5. Transparency and Compliance: Regularly review and ensure compliance with the charity’s policies on political neutrality.
  6. Monitoring and Adapting: Regularly monitor social media activities and adjust strategies to remain within electoral and platform guidelines.

For full guidelines from the UK government on communications and social media content during the election period, see the below resources:


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