Social media causes some users to rethink a political issue

Note: Check out this 2020 article for more recent social media data changing people’s minds.

Politics on social media — like in real life — isn’t always pretty. In an election season marked by partisan animosity, a recent Pew Research Center report found that many social media users describe their online political encounters as stressful and frustrating, and nearly four in ten have taken steps to block or minimize the political content they see. from other users.

But despite the downsides, exposure to the range of new ideas and viewpoints encountered by many social media users can sometimes cause people to change their minds on political issues or candidates.

Overall, 20% of social media users say they have changed their stance on a social or political issue because of content they have seen on social media, and 17% say social media has helped change their perspective on a specific political candidate. Among social media users, Democrats – and liberal Democrats in particular – are slightly more likely than Republicans to say they have ever changed their views on a social or political issue, or on a particular political candidate. , because of something they saw on social media. . (Democrats and Republicans include independents and nonpartisan who “lean” toward those parties.)

In addition to asking them if they had changed their minds in this way because of social media content, our survey also asked respondents to tell us – in their own words – about a recent time when this happened to them. And when we coded their responses, we found a number of distinct themes that emerged in the questions that came to mind.

Many of the responses we received in this survey, conducted this summer, mentioned one of the leading presidential candidates as the “political or social issue” on which they had changed their minds. About one in five users mentioned Hillary Clinton (21%) or Donald Trump (18%), and about one in ten mentioned Bernie Sanders:

“I saw a video on Reddit…that finally made me go from voting independent in this election to voting for Hillary Clinton.”

“I thought Donald Trump was leaning to one side on an issue and a friend posted something that was the opposite of what I believe. It caused me to think about him less than I used to.

“I originally planned to vote for Hillary Clinton in the election, but then I found out about Bernie Sanders through social media. I decided to vote for him instead.

Additionally, people who said they changed their minds about these candidates often said that social media steered their opinion in a more negative direction. Respondents who indicated they had changed their mind about Clinton were more than three times as likely to say their opinion had changed in a negative rather than a positive direction (24% vs. 7%), and respondents who mentioned Trump were nearly five times as likely to say their opinion has become more negative than more positive (19% vs. 4%).

But while many of the responses we received were about the current election, other topics also came to the fore, including issues related to race and the Black Lives Matter movement, whose hashtag is frequently used on the networks. social. About one in ten users (13%) who changed their mind about a “political or social issue” mentioned race, police brutality, or the Black Lives Matter movement in some way:

“Black lives matter vs. all lives matter: I am white. Initially, I saw nothing wrong with saying “All lives matter” – because all lives matter. Through social media, I’ve seen many explanations as to why this statement is actually dismissive of the current issue of black lives that seem to matter less than others and my perspective has changed.

“My perspective on policing has changed dramatically after being confronted with case after case of police violence, especially against communities of color.”

Along with these issues, a relatively small proportion of users mentioned issues such as gun control and gun rights, gay rights and immigration:

“No more pro-gun laws now due to statistics presented in expert social media presentations of gun laws elsewhere in the world and their effect on public violence.”

“I would say I’m for a tougher approach to immigration after reading social media.”

Some social media users who had changed their view on an issue because of material they encountered on social media mentioned politicians in general (6%) or conservatives in general (5%):

“Through the information I saw on Facebook, I learned more about some of the pitfalls of some of the candidates, which makes me vote for an independent party.”

“A message from a friend made me reconsider the positives of conservatives.”

Yet, it is important to note that the majority of social media users are not influenced by what they see on their networks. Some 82% of social media users say they have never changed their opinion of a particular candidate – and 79% say they have never changed their mind on a social or political issue – because of something they have seen on social media.

Monica Anderson is associate director of research at the Pew Research Center.

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