Over one-third of social network users consider sites like Facebook and Twitter “very” or “somewhat” important for keeping up with political news, and fully one-quarter (25%) see these sites as a place for debating political issues. A new study by the Pew Internet and American Life project reveals that social networking sites are not only a place for users to keep an eye on politics, but can also serve as a venue for debate or changes in political views.
Do social networking sites change how actively users are involved in politics, or possibly even alter their political views? One-quarter of respondents claimed they became more active on a political issue after reading about it on a social networking site, and 16% of users changed their views after reading or discussing politics on social networking sites. While that isn’t a high percentage, could it be enough to affect a political campaign – especially when you consider the huge amount of Americans using social networks?
In general, Democrats look more to social networks as a source of political news than Republicans do; nearly half (48%) of Democrats saw social networking sites as “very” or “somewhat” important, vs. only 34% of Republicans. Democrats are also 10% more likely than Republicans to view social networks as an important way of recruiting other people for political causes they care about, and 11% more likely than Republicans to use social networks to find others with similar views.
This could also reflect that in general, left-leaning individuals are more likely to be social network users: according to Pew, 74% of liberal Internet users use social network sites, compared to 70% of political moderates online and 60% of conservatives online (MediaPost).
Despite these party differences, it seems that individuals in either party seldom use social networks to proclaim their own political views: 84% of users have posted little or nothing related to politics in recent status updates/comments/links. In addition, 59% of users say their friends have also posted little or nothing about politics.
But that doesn’t stop social network users from seeking political allies via these sites. Just over one-quarter (26%) of users said social networking sites are important for recruiting people to political causes that matter to them, and 25% said these sites help them to find other people with the same political views.
What do you think – do you look to social networking sites to follow political news – or to express your political views?
The Pew survey was conducted Jan. 20 to Feb. 19 among 2,253 adults; 1,407 of whom used social network sites.