By many accounts, the political season leading up to the November 2012 election will be nasty. And while everyone ought to care about who represents them at local, state and national level, it can be tough forming a rational political opinion and deciphering signals with so much noise surrounding us in the media.
For those whose core values skew them in one of the two (traditional) partisan directions, this is great, as they are provided with a multitude of entertainment options. Many on the left can comfort themselves by watching MSNBC and reading The New York Times, and many on the right can reaffirm their beliefs by watching Fox News and reading the Wall Street Journal.
Those in the middle — or with an independent streak — have a few options too. However, most of these options require more effort than just turning on the television or reading a blog. This can include attempting to coalesce arguments from the left and right to arrive at a hybrid or alternative opinion or scouring for institutional data sources from which to derive an opinion based on empirical evidence. Either way, unfortunately, tuning out most media outlets is probably a sure way of cutting the crap out of one’s life.
However, after canceling your cable television subscription and ending your monthly donation to NPR, you log in to Facebook only to see a “friend” post “Jesus wants everyone to vote conservative!” Or, “I want to give birth to Barack Obama’s lovechild!” Psh, whatever.
The Pew Internet & American Life Project released a report in March titled “Social Networking Sites and Politics.” The report discusses its findings after running a survey of those who utilize social networking sites, their use of social networking sites to relay a political message and their reactions to their friends’ political messages on social networking sites. Some of the findings from the report were interesting or surprising, with a few of those findings summarized below.
Approximately 80 percent of adults in the United States use the Internet, and of this 80 percent, 66 percent participate in at least one social networking site — or SNS — such as Facebook, Twitter or Google+. Broken down by ideology:
- 74 percent of liberal Internet users participate in at least one SNS
- 70 percent of moderate Internet users participate in at least one SNS
- 60 percent of conservative Internet users participate in at least one SNS
Discovering the Unexpected
Approxminately 38 percent of all SNS participants learned someone’s political beliefs were different than what they had originally thought, based on something that person posted on a SNS. Again, broken down by ideology, those who identify as liberal, very liberal and very conservative were most likely to have discovered through their friends’ postings their political beliefs were different than what they had originally thought:
- 54 percent of very liberal SNS participants had made this discovery
- 52 percent of liberal SNS participants had made this discovery
- 52 percent of very conservative SNS participants had made this discovery
Conservative and moderate participants, however, reported results in the low 30s.
See Ya Later
Approximately 82 percent of all SNS participants have never taken action against someone who they disagree with politically, or who litters their wall and/or newsfeed with politically based rants. However, this means 18 percent of SNS participants have taken some form of action. Whether it was to block, unfriend or “hide” someone, of all SNS participants:
- 10 percent have taken action because someone posted too frequently about political subjects
- 9 percent have taken action because someone posted something about politics or issues they disagreed with or found offensive
- 8 percent have taken action because someone argued about political issues on the site with the users
- 5 percent have taken action because someone posted something about politics the user worried would offend other friends
- 4 percent have taken action because someone disagreed with something the user posted about politics.
In addition, there is a fairly pronounced divide by ideology in who would take action; approximately 28 percent of liberal SNS participants have blocked, unfriended or hidden someone for one of the above reasons. This compared to 16 percent of conservative SNS participants and 14 percent of moderate SNS participants.
Of those that got the boot:
- 67 percent were a distant friend or acquaintance of the SNS participant;
- 31 percent were someone that the SNS participant had never met in person;
- 31 percent were a close personal friend of the SNS participant (lulz);
- 21 percent were coworker of the SNS participant; and
- 18 percent were a member of the SNS participant’s family (double lulz).
Keeping It to Yourself
Interestingly, those who identify themselves on the left or right of the political spectrum were the most likely to “self-censor,” or make a conscience effort to not make a politically based post on a SNS. Respectively, 29 and 30 percent of very liberal and liberal SNS participants and 27 and 24 percent of very conservative and conservative SNS participants, self-censor. This compared to only 18 percent of moderate SNS participants.
As things really begin to heat up in the later part of the year, it can be expected that you will be increasingly bombarded by all kinds of political messages in the media, including social media. While you can choose to turn off the television or talk radio, and put down the magazine or newspaper, many rely on at least one SNS to communicate with friends and family on a daily basis. As your Facebook wall and newsfeed fill up with others’ opinions, what will you do?