A Mind of Our Own

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?

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5 Responses to A Mind of Our Own

  1. sdkusin says:

    While I believe that social media sites can lead to increased offline civic engagement and social capital, I think the ways in which the sites are used and characteristics of the user will determine whether or not usage leads to increased social capital. All studies of media effects report their findings with the admitted caveat that all media affects individuals different based on what they bring to the media and how they engage with it. For instance, online activity used for informational purposes has been found to increase social capital while use for recreational purposes does not. Furthermore, size of online network and heterogeneity of the network have been found to be significant mediators on the relationship between Internet use and social capital. Even characteristics of users as specific as whether they are introverts or extraverts has been found to influence the relationship between Internet use and social capital. Therefore, while I do believe that social media use can lead to greater social capital, how they are used and who they are used by will determine their effectives in promoting social capital.

  2. mdhaas715 says:

    The question you bring up is an interesting one and I do believe that SNS like Facebook are helping us become more politically knowledgeable. I do not believe that filtering affects sites like Facebook so much that people using these sites will not receive this information. Today, many people spend their time on Facebook and other social networking sites looking at what their friends are doing, which is made easier with the newsfeed feature. This feature allows for users to see stories that people are posting, click on them, and receive the news much easier than having to go out and find the stories themselves. Generally students go on Facebook much more frequently than they do on news sites during a day and are receiving more information from Facebook than from other places. The fact that political news is present on Facebook allows for more people to hear about politics than they would without this feature. Since some people would be able to get information that they would not be getting otherwise, these sites are allowing for the spread of political information. So while SNS may not always be the best sources for political knowledge, they can provide news to people who otherwise would not be receiving any information.

  3. hansmith91 says:

    I do believe that SNS like Facebook are making people more politically knowledgable, however I think the degree to which they do so depends largely on the age of the SNS user. Older generations generally use these sites as a secondary source of information. They still rely primarily on traditional news outlets (newspapers, television, etc.), but occasionally turn to SNS to share their own opinion or seek out those of their friends. Their personal politics are not generated through the use of the site. However, our younger generation increasingly uses nontraditional forms of media to both develop and share our political ideals. We turn to shows such as The Daily Show with John Stewart or The Colbert Report as our primary news sources and rely on posts from our more politically aware SNS friends to inform us and keep us up to date on current events. If Pariser’s filter bubble argument is indeed true, than our generation will undoubtedly be far less politically knowledgable than our elders. While SNS can be good sources of information, they should be used as supplements to more reliable, objective, and traditional news outlets.

  4. srachelb says:

    I do believe that SNSs are helping us to become more politically knowledgeable. In a world where political knowledge seems to be decreasing among the youth, I believe that Facebook can actually help our generation become more politically informed. I can personally say that Facebook has increased my political awareness, and will speak from personal experience to explain how Facebook has done so… Although I hate to admit it, I most definitely do not consider myself politically knowledgable. I do not take the time out of my day to follow the news, nor do I seek out stories regarding important political issues. Luckily, however, some of my friends do, and some of those friends even go so far as to post their political findings on their Facebook pages. In doing so, I am exposed to these posts on my Facebook News Feed, and often I find myself not only reading these posts, but also following up on the political issues that my friends have posted about. Thus, Facebook serves as the medium for which I get my news, and helps me to become more knowledgable about current political issues. I think that filtering is irrelevant, my argument being that the mere presence of any political posts on Facebook increases our political knowledge by simply exposing us to information that would have never been sought out otherwise.

  5. jnzucker says:

    I think that you pose an interesting question, whether or not Social Networking Sites are helping us become more politically knowledgeable or not. It’s really quite hard to say because websites such as Facebook often bring up different perspectives. I think that in some ways Facebook has allowed us to become more politically knowledgeable but only from a distance. Friends or people that you follow have the opportunity to post links or comments about news stories or things happening in the political spectrum. It is up to you (the user) to further discover these politically posed posts, rather than just glancing at them on your newsfeed. However, like you suggest, filtering has created an issue to this simple model of posting, clicking, and discovering. If one is not interested in politics, their newsfeed might hide political information. For example, after the government shut down yesterday, my newsfeed was clouded with posts related to the shutdown. However, some of my close friends had no idea what was happening because they could not find any of that information on their newsfeed. This presents an interesting scenario that puts a lot of control on the Social Networking Site rather than the user.

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