Study: Social Networks Not Total Political Echo Chambers

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
March 12 2012 5:51 PM

Study: Social Networks Not Total Political Echo Chambers

One common critique of the Internet is that it allows people to seal themselves off in like-minded echo chambers, away from those whose views they don’t like. But a new Pew study says that those who use social networking sites often come in contact with people who have different political views.

Seventy-five percent of users said that their friends discussed politics via social media, and 64 percent of users agreed with their friends only sometimes. Twenty-five percent agreed all or most of the time, and 9 percent never agreed. Additionally, 66 percent of users ignore when a friend posts a differing political view on a social media site. Another 28 percent respond with a comment or post. The majority of users surveyed do not receive negative reactions to their political posts, while 37 percent do get negative comments in response to their views.

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This is fairly remarkable. As people move toward niche sites to read the news, social media are still somewhat pluralistic in terms of political discussion. People do come in contact with opposing viewpoints.

The social media world, though, isn’t entirely harmonious. The Pew study also found that social media users will block, unfriend, or hide someone based on politics: 18 percent of users had dropped a friend because of politics.

Additionally, the most ideological users were also most likely to agree with their friends’ political posts. Twenty percent of very liberal users and 17 percent of very conservative users always or almost always agreed with friends. Meanwhile, more moderate users agreed with friends far less.

Who’s most likely to block a friend based on political views? Liberals.. Twenty-eight percent had dropped a friend, while 16 percent of conservatives and 14 percent of moderates did so.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Caitlin Mac Neal is an intern for Future Tense.

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