There is considerable interest in the role that social networking sites (SNS) are playing in politics and campaigns. Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney and scores of state and local candidates and countless advocacy groups are using Facebook pages and other social media tools to try to engage voters this year. At the same time, some analysts have expressed concerns about the impact of social networking sites on the broad political culture. It is widely believed that SNS users might be living in echo chambers where they only encounter and chat with people who share and reinforce their political views.
A survey earlier this year by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project looked at people’s general use of SNS for politics and about the ways in which they interact with friends on the sites over political material.
The findings from this survey about social networking sites and politics are being covered in two reports: The first was issued in the spring and focused on citizens’ answers to some of the questions in the survey that dealt with how SNS users deal with friends and political issues on the sites, especially when they agree and disagree with their friends’ political postings.
Overall, the survey found that 80% of American adults use the internet and 66% of those online adults participate in social networking sites (SNS) such as Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+. That amounts to more than half of the entire U.S. population who are SNS users.
Those who describe their political beliefs as moderate or liberal are more likely than conservatives to use social networking sites: 74% of internet users who describe themselves as liberal use SNS and 70% of internet users who are moderate are SNS users —that compares with 60% of conservative internet users who are SNS users. The chart below shows what proportion of the entire population — not just internet users — falls into these categories.
There were no statistically significant differences among Democrats, Republicans, and independents in their overall use of SNS. All were equally likely at least to be social networking site users.
In addition, some key findings in the first report:
- There is notable disagreement among friends on social networking sites when it comes to politics.
- 38% of SNS users have discovered through their friends’ postings that their political beliefs were different than they thought they were.
- 18% of SNS users have blocked, unfriended, or hidden someone on the site because the person either posted too much about politics, disagreed with political posts, or bothered friends with political posts. And 16% of SNS users have friended someone whose political posts have appealed to them.
- 38% of SNS users have posted positive comments in response to a political post or status update from someone else.
These figures suggest that the majority of SNS users are not actively seeking out friends based on political affiliation or views, nor are most culling their networks to rid them of those with opposing political points of view.
This second report adds to that picture by exploring some questions in the survey dealing with the impact of political material on social networking site users.