Posted by Donald Ellis
The issue of social media and political conflict is relatively under studied and the site for important research. Actually, my next book project will be about social media and conflict. But first we have to look at some demographic data to learn more about how these media are being used. The data below come from here. First a few bullet points of brief explanation.
- Instagram has become the most approachable social media network
- No surprise to anyone, Pinterest has a primary demographic of women.
- If you’re looking to capture the attention of the young and upcoming generation of Internet users, get creative with Snapchat, Vine, and Tumblr.
- LinkedIn is great for B2B, which is also no big surprise. One area that is often overlooked with LinkedIn is education and high-level professional marketing. LinkedIn has the most highly educated and high-income users consisting of 44% Americans with an average income of $75,000 or greater.
- Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest most particularly are not aging well. They aren’t holding on to their users or engagement. They aren’t capturing the younger generation and their attempts to do so are failing.
- Twitter has stood the test of the time better than other older social networks.
- For how recent Pinterest experienced their massive growth, they just as quickly experienced complete indifference from their once excited users.
- Facebook seems to be the way everyone stays in touch, but the social network fewer and fewer people actually use. The anticipation of how they will maintain popularity or what brilliant idea may replace Facebook keeps us all on the edge of our virtual seats.
We must consider how information is delivered across each of those networks.
Facebook, Google+, and Twitter have nearly the same demographic numbers according to this graph, but they are entirely different social media networks.
Facebook has a sense of consistency, but a problem of actually getting your content seen.
Twitter is a mayhem of hundreds of posts per second, yet they are becoming increasingly visual and you can practically do no wrong. With Twitter, you can post 10-15 times a day and only be seen once by a follower.
Google+ has a more technical and international demographic. Google+ readers tend to connect to Google+ at the same time of day that they connect to their personal email accounts—briefly in the morning and most certainly at night.
While each of these networks appear to be practically the same, they all have their perks and deliver information very differently. Just the same, many users exist across all three of these popular networks, but almost everyone has just one favorite. It is important to speak to your demographic across each of these channels to reach them in their time, in their way, and the way they expect to hear from you.
The data from above isall basic business demographics designed primarily to market products. But if we extrapolate its political implications remain pretty interesting. I will be quick here because we will take up this issue in future posts. But, for example, new digital media allows us to “meme track.” Meme tracking is identifying the flow of the specific concept to determine its movement from individual to individual and its influence. Phrases and words can be tracked across different electronic media and help answer the question of whether or not ideas move from the blogosphere to the mainstream media or vice versa. Meme tracking has implications for conflict resolution as well as understanding how ideas are taking shape in influencing the initiation of conflict. The future post will explain in more detail how this occurs.
Posted by Donald Ellis
I always tell students or groups that I am speaking to not to fall into the trap of communication ideology. By ideology I mean slavish adherence to a set of beliefs about how communication works. One piece of communication ideology is that the more opportunity for communication the better; that is, all opportunities and technological availabilities devoted to the increase in communicative contact are by definition “good.” For example, some of the most current and interesting research procedures have graphically displayed how contact in the world of social media has detracted from Israel-Palestine debate. An article at Vox.com on how social media makes the debate worse explains how polarization is on the increase and there is even less contact between the opposing sides. The article makes the argument that social media makes things worse between Israel and Palestine. How can that be?
The graph in this link displays clusters of contact and those locations in the graph where there are large gaps between clusters are indicators of lack of contact. In those places where contacts cluster each point in the cluster has lots of neighbors; that is, there are groups of connections that increase the likelihood of additional connections. This creates clusters and indicators and there is strong and regular reciprocal contact between members of that cluster neighborhood. In effect, it is an empirical indicator of the confirmation hypothesis or the fact that people turn to those like them for evidence to confirm their beliefs and ignore others with opposing views.
The data displays in the two links are a visualization of the results of analysis of the interactions between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian groups. As the graph depicts, each camp talks mostly to those in their preferred camp. This difficult and violent conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians has entrenched each side in its own discourse such that they spend most of their time reinforcing each other. It is also a rather dramatic display of the lack of cooperation between the two sides. The flow of information between these two politicized camps is stunted. This results in members of each camp living within a bounded community of language and ideas related to the conflict and, most importantly, never getting beyond the limits of their own thinking and information. The matrix of ideas and attitudes they live in may be defensible, but if they don’t see the language and matrix of ideas from the other side than they do not have a full picture of the conflict. To put it simply, cooperation and engaged problem-solving will not result when the two sides share such little common information.
One response to this problem is to improve the media environment such that each has more access to the same media. Middle ground media typically fail to gain the energy and intensity of partisan media but they are more effective as bridging structures: in other words, bridging structures or bridging discourse connects groups and exposes them to opposing viewpoints. As of now, social media is failing miserably because it is simply one more mechanism of providing exposure and reinforcement to those who already agree with you. It is, in Dryzek’s words, bringing forth more “bonding” discourse which unites people of similar dispositions but divides them from others. Bridging discourse is harder work because it must understand the other group and build a bridge – a discursive bridge – between the two divided groups. The simplistic theory of social media, that it would facilitate an open flow of contact, gives way to a more realistic theory that demonstrates how people affirm what they already believe.
Lotan’s research in the first link above offers up strong evidence that partisans from the two sides rarely talk to one another. Moreover, the more you are committed and ego involved in a political issue the more likely you are to ignore evidence to the contrary and resist making the other side look good. Some of these cluster networks maintain a cycle of self-reinforcement that keeps each side trapped in his or her discourse. We could say that a tribal mentality continues.