Emerging media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have taken to another level our ability to comment on and impact political and policy decisions. Politicians and policymakers have recognized this as evidenced by their willingness to join social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
For example, all forty-two current members of the Congressional Black Caucus have Facebook accounts while 38 members have Twitter accounts. Within the past three weeks two members of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai and Jessica Rosenworcel, became residents of the Twitter-verse.
Black Americans in particular have been driving participation in the social media space. According to the Pew Research Center, 28% of Black American adults online use Twitter, compared with 12% of White Americans and 14% of Hispanic Americans. Overall, 13% of all online adults use Twitter.
The Internet is thought of a medium for exchanging ideas and data, but on social network services (SNS), a portion of users may be locking themselves into one narrative in response to views they don’t agree with.
According to Pew, moderate or liberal Internet users are more likely to use SNS than conservatives. Approximately 74% of liberals use SNS while 70% of moderates use SNS. Sixty percent of conservative Internet users are on SNS.
A significant number of SNS users have discovered through postings to SNS that their friends had different political ideologies from them. According to Pew, 38% of SNS users became aware that their friends were not on the same page with them politically. As Pew found out, taking politically opposing views could be detrimental to maintaining friendships online.
While not an overly significant number, Pew found that 18% of SNS users have either blocked, un-friended, or hidden someone from their timelines for committing one of the following offenses:
• Posted too frequently about political subjects;
• Posted something about politics or issues they disagree with or found offensive;
• Argued with the user or with someone the user knows;
• Posted something the user thought others would find offensive; or
• Disagreed with something the user said about politics.
Liberals appear the most willing to show on social networks their lack of tolerance for opposing political views. Twenty-eight percent of liberals take one the above actions toward political expression in their social networks. Sixteen percent of conservatives and 14% of moderates take action against other subscribers’ online political views.
Rather than face the possibility of getting the friendship ax, 22% of online users avoid posting or linking to political content. That is too bad. Political efficacy demands a discussion of the issues; no matter how opposed a friend’s position may be to ours. Efficacy requires citizens have command of the issues making up the discussion. Engaging online could be the first step toward strengthening a position or realizing that you were wrong.
On the flip-side, voters have the right to associate, in cyberspace or on Earth, with people they have an affinity with. Social media usage might merely be reflecting how society reacts to political comments and news when obtained outside of Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.