Realizing the Social Internet? Online Social Networking Meets Offline Civic Engagement by Pasek, More, and Romer is a study about social networking sites (SNSs) and how they help or hurt users social capital. Looking specifically at MySpace and Facebook and a nationally representative sample of 14 to 22 year olds in the United States, “…civic engagement, political knowledge, and interpersonal trust” were measured in comparison to Internet use (Pasek, More, & Romer, 2009). They found that “Facebook users demonstrated greater political knowledge and civic engagement while MySpace users generally had lower knowledge…” (Pasek et al., 2009).
Though this study showed that MySpace users had lower knowledge, Facebook users knew more, and today, Facebook seems to be used much more than MySpace. This data goes against the “Filter Bubble” Eli Pariser expresses his concern about in The Filter Bubble. Pariser is rightfully concerned that filtering what users see on the Internet might lead to a decrease in civic engagement and general knowledge, especially political knowledge. However, as the study shows, this is not necessarily the case with users of social networking sites, and I believe Pariser undermines individual users curiosity and ability to search for new and opposing views.
Sites like Google and Facebook may be filtering out information they think we do not want to see, but the Internet as a whole still gives us the opportunity to find information on topics we might have never come across in a typical newspaper, magazine, or broadcast. Also, social networking sites like Facebook may take out opposing views out of our Newsfeeds, but it is unlikely that it can catch all of them. In this case, users will still see differing views and may be inclined to look into them further.
The Internet may have a mind of its own, changing information for users as it sees fit, but it’s only an electronic mind, following a system of codes. Users, on the other hand, are humans with much more complex brains, which I believe gives us the upper hand. Though Pariser is arguing that filtering is a problem because many of us are unaware of it, it seems it is becoming a lot more apparent to Internet users today, and I do not believe users are completely blind to opposing views.
Do you believe SNSs like Facebook are helping us become more politically knowledgeable or doing the opposite because of the filtering?