This blog post was originally published on http://www.boydneil.com/ on May 1, 2013.
At least two — there may be more — conclusions of a recent Pew Research Center study on Civic Engagement in the Digital Age are further signs that social networks like Facebook and Twitter are the new demos for political discourse. And, of greater long-term consequence, the evidence suggests being active on social networks leads participants to more and different political activity, both online AND off.
The study of more than 2,200 American adults “examines online and offline political engagement and pays special attention to the role of social networking sites in political activities.” (For reasons I don’t fully understand there appears to be far less social network-based political engagement in Canada . . . for the time being.)
The first of the two study findings I find most persuasive is that in every category of political activity, a significantly higher percentage of social network users than of all adults take political action, including offline actions such as encouraging other people to vote and belonging to a group that is involved in political activity. This begins to put the lie to critics who believe a Facebook ‘like’ is nothing but a weak and inconsequential expression of alignment with an idea.
The second finding is that being active on social networks in fact leads to active political behaviours in general. Now, we are not talking here about Arab Spring-level street action. But the Pew study found that “43% of social networking site users say that they have decided to learn more about a political or social issue because of something they read about on a social networking site”.
And, take note social defeatists, nearly 20% of site users say they have “decided to take action involving a political or social issue” because of something they have learned about on the social platforms.
If I were a campaign organizer, I would be putting a social strategy at the core of my supporter recruitment program and of my identification and enrollment of social network opinion influencers.