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Andrew Zheng

Andrew Zheng

Andrew is a senior from Ashburn, VA (just think of it as part of Washington D.C.) studying Public Policy, Computer Science, and Innovation & Entrepreneurship. His thesis “#VoterSuppressionGoneDigital: Exploring the Language and Use of Voter Suppression in Social Media” is the intersection of the above three fields and reflects his vested interest in fighting against voter suppression, his fascination with the effect of technology on human behavior, and his curiosity about the power and influence of social media.

Honors Thesis:

#VoterSuppressionGoneDigital: Exploring the Language and Use of Voter Suppression in Social Media

Faculty Advisor: Professor Bill Adair

Abstract: Voter suppression is as rampant as ever and it seems to have entered a new frontier to target even more voters – the digital space. Because this is a new development, the central question of this paper is: What is the language of voter suppression in social media and how is it used? This study relies on a content analysis of tweets regarding voting and elections during two voting periods to find evidence of the voter suppression language (VSL) in social media. The tweets were obtained through 18 unique search terms, such as #VoteNovember9th (which is an incorrect date). Each tweet containing VSL was separated out and coded for further analysis. In total, 6,488 tweets were identified, of which 1,606 (24.75%) contained VSL. Three broad digital voter suppression tactics were identified – deception, demobilization, and intimidation – each with a unique voter suppression linguistic profile. Deception-based voter suppression tweets exhibited three levels: (1) easy, low-effort, quick change of information, (2) trust-establishing emotional appeals, and (3) institutional invocations. Demobilization-based voter suppression tweets were the most diverse but generally attempted to discredit the institution of voting. Intimidation tweets unilaterally invoked violence and tried to appeal to fear. As the above suggest, digital voter suppression is prevalent and assumes many forms. This raises many policy implications for both social media agencies, as well as election officials. A new question arises out of this one: how do we curb the spread of digital voter suppression and protect American’s ability to vote?