OPINION: #HotGirlsForBernie offers new ways for young voters to connect


Jackson Lanier /Wikimedia Commons

Senator Bernie Sanders speaking at a rally at UNC-Chapel Hill.

The viral hashtag on Twitter, #HotGirlsForBernie, demonstrates how the youth is becoming more politically involved through social media.

On the hashtag, young people everywhere post selfies and claim endorsing 2020 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders makes you attractive too. “I’m voting for Bernie. You can be hot if you do this too,” reads one tweet. “BE HOT VOTE FOR BERNIE,” says another tweet

Overall, the hashtag seemed to foster positivity for Sanders, and encouraged others to become involved. It is the latest strategy for candidates and their supporters to promote messages and gather sponsors. Bruce Newman, a business professor at DePaul University, said a hashtag is an effective communication tool for candidates. 

“The hashtag versitalizes communication between people and it’s a more effective means of influencing your friends,” said Newman. “From the point of view of ‘opinion leadership,’ we look up to people as opinion leaders. So if someone uses the hashtag and they’re respected, it makes it more appealing for others to use it too.”

Young people are politically involved on social media on more ways than a hashtag. Across all platforms, users share articles, share their opinions and quote political leaders and news headlines. This new mode of political involvement is still transpiring, and the impact it can have on young people’s political involvement can be both beneficial and harmful. 

Ben Epstein, a political science professor at DePaul University, explained how social media can help with political exposure. Almost everyone, young or old, is active on some platforms of social media, and are consequently subject to some form of politics. 

“Social media makes it harder to avoid politics and as a result, more people are at least aware of political issues, at minimum in headline form,” said Epstein.

Social media is also attractive for politics because it makes people feel heard, according to Newman. Young people then want to become more politically involved because they feel they can make a difference.

“Social media has increased their involvement because they have a sense that they have a voice,” said Newman. “If you think you have an impact in a political system, it makes you more interested in participating.”

Since social media has given politics a platform, the youth voting rate has increased. According to Craig Sautter, a professor at DePaul University, it is vital for young people to be involved in elections. 

“The decisions that are made by elected officials today will determine the world you live in tomorrow,” said Sautter. “Key issues that young people care about, such as war and peace, social justice and global warming will be impacted by the policies of whoever gets elected next November.”

While social media exposes young people to politics, it may not be the most reliable source. For those who are not well informed about politics, it can be harmful to get the information exclusively through social media. Epstein said it can make it difficult for those who disagree on issues to communicate from different “sides” of media platforms.

“Algorithms built into each platform are designed to give us more of what we like,” said Epstein. “For politics, it helps reinforce and solidify our positions. The personalization of content we experience on social media is part of what is referred to as a filter bubble, and it leads to a lack of diversity of thought in our newsfeeds.”

It’s important to know the source of the information people receive. News media organizations have generally been a credible source for information, especially for politics. However, President Donald Trump has begun to change that during his presidency, according to Newman. 

“The president has started the notion of ‘fake news’ and it has permeated through the use of social media,” said Newman. 

On social media platforms like Facebook, it can become incredibly difficult to differentiate what news is true or just an internet troll. 

The function of social media in politics will continue to transpire and be impactful. It can be a double-edged sword for young people, as it exposes many to political issues and they become more politically involved, but divide those with different opinions and spread false information. 

“Overall, social media is a strategy to boost visibility,” said Epstein. “How it is used is a separate issue. Some may have thought ‘#HotGirlsForBernie’ was fun and helpful, while others may have thought it was harmful. The debate it worth having.”