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Young voters did a lot of voting in last year's election, with a record 53% of 18- to 29-year-olds casting ballots. Now one of the giants in social media is encouraging these young voters to get into the game themselves as candidates. Here's NPR's Juana Summers.
JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: If you've used Snapchat, you might think it's just an app to share photos that quickly disappear.
SOFIA GROSS: And whenever I'm explaining this to, you know, my grandfather, I really help him understand that instead of telling you where I am or what I'm up to, it's sending a photo or a video to someone close to you to really help them feel like they are with you in that moment, experiencing whatever it is that you're experiencing.
SUMMERS: That's Sofia Gross. She works for Snapchat's parent company, Snap. The company is making a major push to have a more lasting impact on Snapchat's passionate, largely young user base. It's encouraging them to consider running for local offices.
GROSS: So Snapchatters can come to the app to learn more about this initiative by simply typing in run for office.
SUMMERS: It starts off with one piece of information - where a user lives.
GROSS: We're going to look for opportunities in the ZIP code 65201.
SUMMERS: By way of explanation, Gross picked that ZIP code because it's where I went to college in Missouri.
After a user enters a ZIP code, they're presented with a whole list of different issues - things like the environment, education, jobs. The idea is that they pick a couple areas that matter to them, and that helps populate a list of elected positions. Gross tapped on one of them.
GROSS: This will then bring you to a position profile so you can learn more about what this job actually entails, whether or not it's for you. You might take a look at this position and say, oh, that's super interesting. Local school board is in line with my background and my interests. And you may decide to run.
SUMMERS: Snap partnered with BallotReady to provide users with information about the offices they could run for. They can learn things like who currently holds the office or what's required to run. Once a user indicates that they want to take the plunge and run for an office, the app provides an option to connect with some partner organizations for a little guidance.
A'shanti Gholar is the executive director of Emerge, a group focused on recruiting Democratic women candidates.
A'SHANTI GHOLAR: One of the things that I love about the youngest generation of voters, especially when it comes to running for office, being politically engaged, making their voices heard, is that they're not asking for permission, that they are just doing it. And those are the people of the Snapchat generation.
SUMMERS: That generation is pretty young. Officials from the company say the app reaches 90% of people in the U.S. between the ages of 13 and 24 - 90% - a lot of them too young to run for office right now, or even vote.
All of this, of course, raises some obvious questions about privacy. Snap says its candidate recruitment partners receive limited, self-submitted information from users, including their first and last name, email address and ZIP code. No other data is shared.
Candidate recruitment organizations see a lot of opportunity in this partnership. One of the elected officials that Snap consulted with is Iowa State Rep. Joe Mitchell. He's a Republican who was first elected to office at age 21, and he's a co-founder of Run GenZ.
JOE MITCHELL: There's so many people like myself and like my co-founders that are out there that just need a little nudge, need a little encouragement.
SUMMERS: Mitchell uses Snapchat every day and says it makes a lot of sense as a place to reach more young conservatives.
MITCHELL: What I think is important about it, though, is that, No. 1, the age demographic, but then No. 2, it's going to be tailored and catered towards, you know, algorithms which can send folks that are interested in, you know, Ben Shapiro or some of these other conservative organizations on Snapchat our way.
SUMMERS: Snap says that once a potential candidate selects a group as a partner and provides their contact information, the goal is to get them connected outside of the app within a matter of days. Users and potential candidates will also see a digital version of a familiar campaign tool - campaign stickers.
GROSS: So if you tap one of these stickers, we can then take a photo and send it to close friends, letting them know that you're running for office. So that way you can get out the vote on Snapchat.
SUMMERS: The hope is that this generation of Americans will see running for office as a way to get involved in their communities the same way they voted at historic levels last year.
Juana Summers, NPR News.
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