Pew Research just released the latest round of data on social networking and political engagement. I confess that I have a special interest on this topic since I’ve published a co-authored piece that explores how Facebook affects political participation and political knowledge.
In PEW’s latest report, they identify an interesting contrast between the 2008 and 2012 elections. In 2008, only 26% of people joined a social network of any kind. In 2012, 39% of people used social networking sites specifically for political purposes. That’s a dramatic jump.
In the, volunteer, sign petitions, boycott, etc., In 2012, PEW reports that 12% of adults belonged to a group on a social networking website.
While these 12% of adults may be encouraged to participate as a result of joining online political groups, our study suggests that adults may not be learning anything from this interaction. In survey research, we found that there was no discernible difference between those people who joined political Facebook groups and those who did not.
Our findings are indeed troubling. They suggest that the Internet may not be facilitating political engagement in an entirely ideal way. Nonetheless, future work needs to continue to investigate the ways that the Internet changes our interaction with the political world.