By Tori Otten
New York City is packed with Instagram-worthy photo opportunities. Iconic monuments can be found scraping the sky all over the city, from the Statue of Liberty to the Empire State Building. But the weekend before the election, just before photos of the New York City Marathon began to flood social media, perhaps the most potent photo op was situated at ground level, on the sidewalk near the Flatiron building.
At the Flatiron Plaza, Instagram installed a giant, vibrantly colored mural on the ground depicting some of the most contentious issues of the 2016 Presidential Election—women’s health, immigration, student debt and incarceration. Blank sets of footprints labeled #FromWhereIStand2016 were scattered throughout the mural and people were encouraged to take a stand, literally, on the issues that were important to them and post the photos to Instagram using that hashtag.
“This is the most visual election to date,” said John Tass-Parker, the head of politics and government for Instagram. “We’ve seen so many people come by from all over New York – tourists, people from out of town – and one of the things that has been really interesting is that there have been so many people who have gone over to the ‘First Time Voter’ position, grabbing that photograph, and putting it on Instagram.”
Tass-Parker pointed out that social media platforms have been a major tool for engaging a wider audience this election, referring to Instagram. “I think [millennial] participation is truly represented through Instagram,” he said, referring to the platform as a “front row ticket and backstage pass.”
From street art to selfies, candidates have increasingly shared images as a means of interacting with the all-important millennial audience. Adweek estimates that politicians allocate 9 percent of their media budget to digital and social media. Millennials (ages 18-35) make up a large voter block this election: there are 69.2 million millennials eligible to vote this year, compared to 69.7 million eligible baby boomers (ages 52-70). But millennials have unfortunately developed the reputation of being apathetic and unengaged, especially when it comes to politics and social issues. Washington Post Wonkblog contributor Christopher Ingraham once referred to them as unpatriotic, uninformed, and hypersensitive.
“While [millennials] do get a bad rep, I feel like we’re also stirring so much discussion,” said Suzanne Kim, 22, who had stopped to take photos at the mural with her friend, Amy Lu, 22. “I think we are the loudest voices. Our age group is what dominates the social media feed, and the presidential election has been so talked about on Facebook, on Twitter. I think we are being as active as we can, trying to start discussion.”
Social media has proved to be a key tool in helping millennials to get engaged in this election. When Facebook ran a banner reminding people to register to vote on Sept. 23, it had an impact. California, for example, reported that 123,279 people registered to vote or updated their registrations on the first day that the banner appeared. This was the fourth-highest daily total in the state’s history of online registration. Indiana reported its third-highest daily online registration, while Minnesota broke its record for most online registrations in a single week. Connecticut saw 14,883 people register during the first three days that the reminder was up, an increase of over twelve times the rate of the previous week. Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky, Nebraska, and West Virginia reported similarly high highest rates of voter registration, and all nine of these states credited Facebook with encouraging younger voters to get involved.
Through the mural, Instagram gave millennials a platform that was entirely their own to come together and talk about what issues and changes will be most important to them in the next four years.
“I think that [the mural] is doing a good job of not speaking to a specific candidate and party,” said Lu, who stood on the health care and incarceration footprints. “So when you take a step back, it’s like, do we as Americans care about health care? Do we care about schooling for children, and incarceration? Yes, we do. So we should be focusing on those issues and where we stand on those. It’s a bigger picture.”
Even though the mural was only out for three days, it generated over 250 posts on Instagram, including posts from Teen Vogue and CNN’s Bret Baier.