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Social media link to political participation

November 15, 2012

Social media are becoming more widely used in gathering political information, as well as people expressing their own political opinions online.

An article by Margaret Weigel from Dec. 2011, titled “Exploring the Role of Political Discussion for Online Political Participation,” talks about a 2011 study done at both the University of Texas at Austin and Catholic University of Chile. The study is published in the International Journal of Public Opinion Research, and is called “Society Networks that Matter: Exploring the Role of Political Discussion for Online Political Participation.”
This study surveyed 1,159 adults in the United States about their “online and offline political practices between November, 2008 and January, 2009,” wrote Weigel.

The researchers focused on three specific components. They focused on network size and composition, level of agreement and argumentation, and the degree of offline political engagement.

The study came up with several findings. Overall, people “with a larger network of online discussants tended to be more engaged in online political activities.” This finding supports the idea that “web-based services facilitate the transmission of political messages, so that mobilizing information such as public petitions to authorities can be shared more effectively through interactive-based applications than through in-person conversations.”

Weigel wrote that people who have interpersonal relationships that are based on face-to-face communication are less likely to participate in political activities online. Participants with larger online networks are more likely to engage in political discussions online.

Other findings show that someone is more likely to participate in an online political discussion if they read their news online. Also, reading offline news sources such as newspapers and magazines does not affect these online participation rates.

“Younger, lower income respondents engaged more frequently in political activities online, as did those with a strong identity with political parties and who were exposed to online news more frequently,” said Weigel.

Weigel said it seems as though having weak social ties are a key component in whether or not someone participates in online politics.

In contrast to that however, discussion network attributes, such as reasoning, that are considered to be essential when promoting citizen engagement, seem to be less important, at least when it comes to political participation on the Internet.

Those are just the findings for the above universities. Political participation through social media here at UW-River Falls is similar.

Student Erika Cooley said that she uses social media, especially Facebook, a little bit when it comes to gathering political information. Though she said she does not always believe what people write. Cooley does not participate in online political discussions. She does not want to get into any arguments with people or offend anyone.

Student Kristina Cashin feels the same way.

“I try to stay out of politics on Facebook,” said Cashin. Cashin tends to get all of her political information from msn.com and unbiased websites. As far as how it benefits her political participation, Cooley said that the information people get off of social media sites such as Facebook can be more hurtful than helpful.

“You don’t always know where people are getting their information,” said Cooley.