Pew study: Social networking sites’ users are uneasy around political postings

politics on facebookAlong with religion, politics can be a touchy subject for polite conversation in the real world, and new research shows our online social lives mirror our real world behaviors – politics and social networking sites have an uneasy relationship, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life project.

The survey was completed in February 2012 and combed information from 2,253 Americans, age 18 and over. Some introductory numbers Pew found: 80 percent of Americans use the Internet, 66 percent of those Americans use a social networking site, and of those people, 75 percent say that their friends post some sort of political content.

While some political analysts have criticized social networking sites and the Internet for being responsible for creating political echo chambers, the Pew survey seems to show that this echo chamber viewpoint may be too harsh of a conclusion. Pew found that only 25 percent of social networking users always or mostly agree with the political content posted by friends.

The survey seemed to suggest that SNS users friendship “are not centered on political discussion and that many networks are not built with ideological compatibility as a core organizing principle.” Users seem to shy away from political confrontation; 73 percent say they sometimes, or never agree with friends political postings, and 66 percent of those people who don’t see eye-to-eye with their friends on politics tend to ignore those posts. A fifth (22 percent) of social networking users actively censor themselves politically for fear of upsetting or offending one of their social network friends.

Interestingly, a good portion of users have been surprised by their friends’ political leanings. The survey found that 38 percent of SNS users learned their friends held different political pew politicsbeliefs than they thought; this typically happened with Democrats, liberals as well as those with very conservative views.

And if you’ve ever thought of unfriending someone for being too political zealous, you’re not alone. At least 18 percent of social networking site users have decided to block, unfriend or hide someone based on politics. Usually, the top reasons for unfriending are for hyper-frequent political posting, for offensive posts, or for argumentative behavior. Typically the blocked friend was a distant friend, an acquaintance or someone they’ve never met in the real world. Demographic-wise, liberals tend to block more: 28 percent of liberals have blocked, unfriended or hidden, while only 16 percent of conservatives and 14 percent of moderates have acted this way.

These numbers don’t necessarily mean that politics is taboo. Social networking sites can still be a hot bed of political conversation, according to Pew, “especially during campaign seasons.” Politico’s recent team up with Facebook to measure GOP candidate buzz somewhat confirms Pew’s point. 47 percent of SNS users have hit the “like” button to affirm a friends political comment and 16 percent have friended or followed someone based on similar political views: Democrats tend to affirm more with comments than Republicans or Independents. All in all, the Pew survey says that “friends sometimes agree and sometimes disagree,” inside social networking sites, but tend to ignore any little political blips of annoyance to continue on with friendships.

Via Pew Internet

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