The Best Mix: Politics + Social Media

Vote New MexicoWith Election Day fast approaching (vote!), we thought it timely to talk about politics, and, as communications nerds, we of course are talking about politics in relation to media – social media to be specific.

Now, a lot of you might be cringing at the combination of politics and social media. Social media is abuzz with political messages, and some opinions are shared a little less….delicately than others, one could say. According to a study, about 14 percent of people have unfriended someone on Facebook over “political comments.” But, as it turns out, mixing social media and politics can have some positive outcomes, too.

These days we are always connected; through platforms like Twitter and Facebook, our everyday connections have extended beyond family and close friends to coworkers, friends of friends, and then there are those far-reaching, random acquaintances (I met them in high school… No, wait, I met them on that trip to Florida?…no…). We’ve all been there.

This extended network of broad acquaintances has changed the game for political communications.

Some argue that social media use increases political polarization. The idea being that users seek out and align with other users who have similar worldviews and political opinions. Essentially, the theory is we network solely with people who share our political ideology. This has been supported by a number of studies, like this one from Pew Research, but there’s some new research out there that’s challenging conventional ideas about the impact of social media on political opinion.

A recent study published by New York University researcher Pablo Barberá claims just the opposite; that our increasingly complex (and sometimes random) social media networks reduce political polarization by exposing users to a wider variety of voices and ideologies. Barberá found that our broad collection of acquaintances and friends of friends (the randos) invites more diverse voices into our newsfeed and consciousness, encouraging less polarized political views.

It’s easy to make party lines feel like battlefields, and combat (or dismiss) those with differing viewpoints or political leanings. However, Barberá argues that on social media, we make contact with other ideas in conversation. And interestingly enough, some human element plays in and we are more willing to listen.

Advocates for intercultural communication have long said that interacting with differing worldviews creates stronger and more meaningful dialogue;. Jessica Carter argues in a blog posting that Twitter is the perfect venue for that interaction because it creates a space for people to come in contact with the unlikely – new cultures and ideas.

The moral of the story: creating real dialogue will eventually bring us to the real solutions. So share away, talk politics, post a photo that says “GO VOTE” (and then go vote) because the ripple effect is real.

Written by Marissa Higdon

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