Your incessant posts on social media about political candidates and social issues are actually changing minds — well, 1 in 5 minds, at least.
That’s according to recently released data from the Pew Research Center, which has been tracking the role of social media throughout this divisive election cycle. More people than ever are turning to Facebook, Twitter and the like for news and commentary, then sharing their views with followers who range from old high school friends to that aunt you only care to see at Thanksgiving.
Pew found that 20 percent of survey respondents say social media has altered their position on a political issue and 17 percent say it has changed their view of a specific candidate. Democrats were more likely to report social media changed their views than Republicans.
A similar Pew survey conducted in 2012 found that 16 percent of respondents had their views of a political issue changed as a result of their activity on social networks.
When asked which candidate or issue they reconsidered because of interactions on social media, the top responses were Hillary Clinton (21 percent), Donald Trump (18 percent), racial issues/Black Lives Matter/police brutality (13 percent), Bernie Sanders (8 percent) and gun control/gun rights (6 percent), according to Pew.
That’s not necessarily good news for Clinton or Trump. More respondents said social media posts made their impressions of the candidates more negative rather than more positive.
Social media, especially Facebook, has been criticized for creating something of a political echo chamber, where people tend to find information and engage with those who reinforce their views rather than challenge them. Facebook released its own study last year that showed its users have five friends with political views similar to their own for every one friend with opposing views.
The Pew survey found that people were exposed to a diversity of viewpoints but may not have tolerance for all of them. Although 40 percent of respondents say they have blocked or unfriended someone for political reasons, many also report that a “mix of beliefs” is reflected in their Facebook (53 percent) and Twitter (39 percent) newsfeeds.
People have “been thrown into this environment with this big stew of people who in many cases they may not want to hear their political viewpoints and here they are popping up in their feeds,” said Aaron Smith, Pew’s associate director of research.
“I don’t know if we can make a universal statement about whether this is good or bad,” he added.
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