How Americans View Social Media’s Role in Politics

2 May 2024

There is no question that social media has a huge impact on our lives, for better or for worse. For the most part, we all use it to communicate with friends, share parts of our lives, send funny memes to friends and family, and scroll endlessly when we are bored.

But while social media can also help us learn more about the world around us and provide us with insight, it can also serve as a dangerous tool, used for nefarious purposes such as spreading falsehoods and misinformation.

For this reason, social media becomes dangerous with regard to its role in politics. The question must be asked: what is social media’s role in politics and how is this technology viewed by Americans?

An interesting Pew Research Center poll published recently shows that “most Americans are wary of social media’s role in politics and its overall impact on the country, and these concerns are ticking up among Democrats.”

According to the poll, “Since 2020, more Americans – particularly Democrats – believe social media companies wield too much political power. Roughly eight-in-ten Americans (78%) say these companies have too much power and influence in politics today, according to a new Pew Research Center survey of 10,133 U.S. adults conducted Feb. 7-11, 2024. This is up from 72% in 2020.”

In addition, Americans are far more likely to say social media has a negative rather than positive impact on the country. Roughly two-thirds (64%) think social media has a mostly negative effect on the way things are going in the country today.

These attitudes are not new.

In fact, when Pew asked people across 19 countries about their attitudes towards social media in 2022, it found that a median of 84% believed “access to the internet and social media have made people easier to manipulate with false information and rumours”.

Additional research from Binghamton University reveals that extreme views garner more likes on social media.

The study explores how social media, driven by clicks and shares, often amplifies the most radical or unusual opinions. This trend is not only prevalent in political or religious topics but in any subject where heightened opinions can attract attention.

The research highlights the significant role of social dynamics and exposure to information in shaping and reinforcing beliefs, emphasizing that extreme opinions can boost popularity among like-minded individuals.

According to Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, American voters are less ideologically divided than they often

perceive, especially among those who are highly politically engaged.

Although Americans across different political parties share many policy preferences, including some agreement on contentious issues like abortion, gun control, and the teaching of American history, these commonalities are frequently overshadowed by perceived differences.

For instance, both a majority of Democrats and a significant number of Republicans support certain gun control measures, yet there's a stark contrast in how each group views the urgency of gun violence.

Over the past decade, Democrats have shifted leftward on race and social issues, while Republicans have leaned rightward on immigration issues under the Biden administration.

Despite these shifts, there's still some policy overlap. However, the most politically active individuals—progressive activists and extreme conservatives—tend to have the most distorted views of the opposing side’s beliefs, exacerbating the sense of polarization.

What is clear is that these perceived differences are what make it onto social media and reinforce negative political viewpoints and even misinformation.

Today, more and more people are becoming aware of the dangers of social media and the effects of such technology on the public when paired with politics. Hopefully, this awareness will encourage people to view social media with a critical eye and not believe everything they see or hear.