Posting the vote: how social media affects political engagement
Published: Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 30, 2012 00:10
Some Sam Houston State University students believe that social media is harmfully impacting political engagement.
Networking sites like Twitter and Facebook have become powerful platforms for discussing political issues, but as this election season draws to a close some have wondered about its efficacy in positively influencing others.
“It’s easy to form an opinion based off your friend’s opinions,” said Crystal Thomas, senior. “I feel like a lot of people allow themselves to be misinformed.”
Analysts from the Pew Research Center have also expressed concerns about the impact of social networking sites on the broad political culture.
In a report released last September, the center revealed that social media has been shown to play a modest role in influencing user’s views and political activities.
The survey revealed, however, that users might be living in echo chambers where they only encounter and chat with people who share and reinforce their political views.
The results were based on a survey from Jan. 20 to Feb. 19 and based on conversations with 2,523 respondents over the age of 18.
“People are willing to say anything because their followers on social networking sites encourage it,” said SHSU alumnus Lauren Daniels. “An example: the rumor about Mitt Romney’s slogan being the same as the KKK.”
White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer recently told the New Yorker magazine, “With the internet, with YouTube, with TiVo, with cable TV, people are selective viewers now… People approach their news consumption the way they approach their iPod.”
“I honestly think sharing opinions, especially something that’s so heavy and controversial on Facebook isn’t the best idea,” said junior Maria Trela. “Ideas can get misconstrued and the overall meaning of something can be taken the completely wrong way.”
Regardless of its effects, social media is an unavoidable and prevalent force in society.
The second presidential debate, according to Bluefin Labs researcher Eleanor Dowling, generated 12.24 million social media comments- 11.7 million tweets and 572,000 public Facebook posts.
Its social media buzz was considered the third most social TV event of all time after the 2012 Grammy Awards and the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards.
Politicians cannot avoid social media, either. Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney and scores of state and local candidates and advocacy groups have used social media platforms like Facebook to engage voters.
There are those users that enjoy political engagement in social media.
“I value the opinions of my friends so even if I disagree with what they may say, reading their posts gives me an opportunity to challenge my own beliefs, positions and perspectives” said Jesse Gutierrez.
Others hold similar beliefs, especially politically engaged social media users.
“I feel the give and take over social media only helps people think through their prejudices and previously held bias,” said alumni Kristopher Scroggins.
“I would be talking with my close friends about important ideas such as policy debates anyway. Social media simply allows me to communicate with many people at once, and get information from many people at once” said senior John Vandivier.
“Furthermore, it allows me to tap resources that I wouldn’t be able to otherwise because, for example, I’m not personal friends with the editor of the NY Times, or the Heritage Foundation, but I can like their Facebook page or follow their tweets and still get cutting edge information about what they think about all kinds of stuff.”
Whether social media is in actually a good or evil in society remains unanswered. However, it certainly appears, like most issues, to have a lot of give and take.