Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Lesson Chamber

According to a Pew Internet & American Life Project Study on "Social networking sites and politics" the following (among other things) are true about users of Social Networking Sites.

Conservatives are less likely than liberals to have taken steps to ignore or disconnect from someone whose views are different.

Liberals are more likely than conservatives to have self-censored their posts because they were worried it might upset or offend someone.
What's your immediate reaction?

I ask this because in my experience, where the rubber really meets the road is in what people do with this sort of information when they are presented with it. I encountered this study through a Google+ user who had reshared another Google+ user's post of an article that referenced the study. The article was both partisan and misleading (unsurprising, given the partisan nature of the site it was on), and that started an echoing effect.

And it was clear to me that no-one had gone back and actually read the research itself. Mainly because the comments I was reading were disconnected from the study itself, and concerned themselves with either amplifying or mocking the partisan commentary on the article or appealing for unity in spite of it. Misleading statements in the article that concerned the study's findings went unchallenged. Perhaps this is simply a part of my natural skepticism of random things that I read on the Internet, but when I found a link to the actual data, I read it, and found that while there is information that partisans on both sides of the divide to use against one another, those people who self-identify as political moderates come out the best - and worst - in nearly all categories, being less likely to try and shield themselves from political commentary they disagree with, yet also substantially less likely to be concerned with offending or upsetting others.

Of course, there's no real incentive for wings to unite against, or aspire to, the center. So they tend to content themselves with garnering victim cred and virtue points by holding up the flaws of the other side. But perhaps the opposite is in order. Maybe those social media users who consider themselves "Liberal" and "Very Liberal" should be willing to tell the minority of their peers who are likely to lock themselves away from dissenting voices and possibly offensive content to be more open. On the other hand, perhaps the political middle could learn something about being more aware of how others feel. And "Conservatives" and the "Very Conservative" could choose either lesson to take to heart, and share with their peers.

But always looking to catalog the sins of others; to point at them and say "There's the problem," is nonconstructive. And huddling in a circle to remind ourselves of how superior we are will do nothing to solve the problems that we find ourselves confronting.

No comments: