Is Facebook increasing political discussion among friends?

Posted on: April 5, 2011

A recent survey of US college students has found they believe online advocacy is more effective, for them, than in-person lobbying.

This, interestingly, applies far more to Facebook than Twitter advocacy:

“Of 18-29 year olds, 36 percent said they have some or a great deal of interest in receiving advocacy related messages from friends on Facebook; 29 percent have some or a great deal of interest in official campaign messages on Facebook; and only around 15 percent have some or a great deal of interest in Twitter advocacy messages from friends or official campaign accounts.”

The crucial element here is the different types of connections people have on Facebook versus Twitter. I read once that Facebook is where you connect with people you went to school with, whereas Twitter is where you find those you wish you went to school with. In other words we are more likely to know our Facebook friends in the ‘real world’ than those we mutually connect with on Twitter.

While social media has been associated with political impact in times of turbulence, for example via crucial signals in the Egyptian uprising, in more stable democratic scenarios these US net natives are keen to discover the political leanings and arguments of those they trust enough to be friends with on Facebook. It can also be reasonably assumed they are also discussing the content of these messages with the friends posting them.

It would be interesting to see how a similar study would play out in the UK, where citizens are famed for avoiding civic-minded chit-chat – and politics and religion are deemed no-go subjects in polite company. Could the social web help shift such reticence, cultivating more openness to debate among ‘real’ friends than would have occurred otherwise? Or are Brits happy gathering around the bbcqt hashtag and keeping political opinions to themselves when it comes to Facebook friends, as well as dinner guests?

If, however, these US college students typify attitudes and online behaviour trends elsewhere, as Facebook friendships stretch worldwide this indicates the development of the global civic preparedness necessary to nurture our nascent global democracy.

global Facebook friends visualisation by Paul Butler


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