November 2, 2018 / 4:22 AM / 14 days ago

Social media, tech firms use sites to urge U.S. citizens to vote

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Criticized by lawmakers and others for being unable or unwilling to stop false and inflammatory information about divisive political issues, social media and tech companies say they are doing more to boost voter turnout for next Tuesday’s U.S. congressional elections.

A woman wears a sticker on her face as she listens to U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX), candidate for U.S. Senate during the last day of early voting in Texas, at an O'Rourke campaign rally in Plano, Texas, U.S., November 2, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Snap Inc, Facebook Inc and other firms will remind users to vote and link to a nonprofit guide for identifying the correct polling place, ballot items and hours.

The involvement of sites that appeal to younger users is encouraging to some democracy advocates, who worry about lower electoral participation by younger voters.

Only about 17 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds voted in the previous congressional elections in 2014, though some opinion polls say the proportion could be much higher this year.

Democrats are generally favored to win the 23 seats they need to wrest the majority from Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, an advantage they could use to block President Donald Trump’s agenda of hardline immigration policy and other Republican positions that are anathema to Democrats.

Republicans have a stronger chance of keeping control of the Senate, according to opinion polls and nonpartisan forecasters.

Santa Monica, California-based Snap on Thursday said it would send a rare blast message to all of its U.S. users on election day, Nov. 6. The message will include the link to poll location information. Snap typically sends such messages only on holidays.

The company’s Snap Maps feature, which shows locations of users who opt in and locations of special activity, will also link to polling location data.

It will be the first time that the feature, which had 100 million monthly users in February, contains a link to an outside service, Gettothepolls.com, which draws its material from state officials.

Mike Ward, program director of TurboVote, the nonprofit project working with the big tech companies and the states, welcomed the map feature. A previous Snap effort to steer users to registration information, including online applications in the more than 30 states that offer them, drew 400,000 people.

Facebook and Spotify will also display the Gettothepolls.com link. Facebook and other social media will also prompt people to signal to their friends when they’ve voted, which Ward said is effective.

Car service company Lyft said it will offer free rides through a number of nonprofits, including the League of Women Voters. Rival Uber last week simplified its procedure for offering free or discounted rides, directly knocking $10 off the cheapest version of its ride-hailing service.

Reporting by Joseph Menn; editing by Grant McCool

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