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1 in 5 Minds are Changed by Political Posts on Social Media

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A new report from Pew Research Center claims that political posts shared on social media are in fact capable of changing people's minds. The report considers the views of social media users (rather than voters in general) in relation to the US Presidential Election. It found that, for one in five people surveyed, politically-themed posts on social media had been effective in changing their position on a particular issue. Moreover, 17 percent of participants agreed that such posts had changed their opinion of a particular candidate. But beyond the stats, it's probably more relevant (and a bit funnier) to consider how they're going to be interpreted by everyone. After all, however we decide to take these data, their main effect is probably going to be the perpetuation of quarrelling and squabbling online

Although the report likely won't change much, whatever effects it does have will probably be felt most by everyday users of social media. In the minds of those who already take to Facebook to wax political, the research will undoubtedly solidify the notion that social media is an important setting for chatting-up their unique and excellent views. We can probably expect the embiggening of some already-large egos by this time next week. 'Member the South Park episode about Yelp reviewers? More of that's a-comin', folks.

However, if that's going to happen, a lot of people might choose to give social media a rest for a bit. After all, although the report found that 20 percent of participants liked encountering political discussion online, over one third (37 percent) were tired of it. Which is very understandable. Half the US electorate is probably going to be quite bitter for a while to come; the Presidential campaigns were divisive, the rhetoric bitter, and both candidates were really, really unpopular. Even us Brits became exhausted watching, and we don't even live there! 

Nevertheless, among those whose polemics do persist, Republicans and Democrats are likely to wield the report in a manner which suits their particular viewpoints. For example, Pew felt it necessary to emphasise that a slight majority of those 20 percent who agreed that social media could indeed change their minds were also, at the time, planning to vote Democrat. Through this distinction, the report-makers have given divisive forces more excuses to be mean to each other. We can probably expect some interpretations of this outcome which take it as evidence of the naivety, the flip-floppiness, of Democrat voters; which will undoubtedly rub against rival interpretations which assert things like 'Republicans are just closed-minded.' Erm...no comment on that. Just, again, brace yourselves for more online arguing.

The report, therefore, seems to achieve what many reports often end up achieving: providing ammo to both sides of a debate while stoking hostilities through the odd loaded fact. However, it's worth remembering that reports like this do serve an important social function. If we take these findings as part of a wider landscape of surveys and data-gathering by various research bodies, the Pew report stands in stark contrast to a lot of things out there at the moment. Wired, for example, recently published an article which led by claiming: "Sorry, but your astute election posts aren't changing anybody's minds." It built on a survey conducted by Rantic, a social media marketing firm, but has since been removed due to "further reporting." 
Against the Grain Nutrition

So, if you thought it was hard to know what to think after reading the Pew report, you'll have a really fun time trying to decide whether or not it's a reliable source, whether it's unusual to hear findings like this, and generally trying to rationalise why it was made in the first place. (Possible answers: yes, yes, and...not cash?!) Whatever the case, let's just hope that fraternity and brotherhood prevail in the end. More to the point, let's hope that sarcastic people keep finding the time to make hilarious e-cards. I love these things. (Said everyone, ever.)



James has a Bachelor’s degree in History and wrote his dissertation on beef and protest. His heroes list ranges from Adele to Noam Chomsky: inspirations he’ll be invoking next year when he begins a Master’s degree in London. Follow him @Songbird_James


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1 in 5 Minds are Changed by Political Posts on Social Media Reviewed by James Darvill on Tuesday, November 15, 2016 Rating: 5

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