January 27, 2022

Pew Reports “More Than One-Third of Social Media Users Are Worn Out by Political Content They Witness on These Platforms”

From Pew Research:

Political discussions on social media are a fact of digital life for many Americans. And although some politically active users enjoy these opportunities for engagement, a larger share of U.S. adults express annoyance and aggravation at the tone of the political interactions they witness on social media, according to a new Pew Research Center report.

37% of social media users are worn out by political content

The survey of more than 4,500 U.S. adults finds that 37% of social media users are worn out by the amount of political content they encounter – nearly double the share (20%) who says they like seeing lots of political information on these platforms. Meanwhile, more than half (59%) describe their online interactions with those they disagree with politically as stressful and frustrating, and 64% say their online encounters with people on the other side leave them feeling as if they have even less in common than they thought.

Many users see social media as an especially negative venue for political discussions, but others see it as simply “more of the same”

The frustration surrounding these encounters may stem from the perceived tone of the political conversation on social media. Fully 40% of social media users strongly agree that social media platforms are places where people say things while discussing politics that they would never say in person, and about half of users feel the political conversations they see on social media are angrier (49%), less respectful (53%) and less civil (49%) than those in other areas of life.

The study finds that most users try their best to avoid political arguments on social media. Fully 83% of social media users say they try to ignore friends’ political posts that they disagree with, while 15% say they typically respond to these posts with a comment of their own. Simultaneously, many take action to avoid problematic users or content altogether. Some 39% of social media users say they have either blocked or unfriended someone, or changed their settings in order to see fewer posts from them because of something related to politics.

Many users see social media as an especially negative venue for political discussion, but others see these sites as simply “more of the same”

However, some highly politically active users say that they enjoy debating political issues on social media – even though they express many of the same frustrations about the tone of political discussions on these platforms. Some 19% of highly engaged users indicate that they often comment, discuss or post about political issues with others on social media (just 6% of less-politically engaged users post with this level of frequency). And nearly one-third of these politically engaged users feel that social media bring new voices into the political discussion (31%) or help people get involved with issues that matter to them (30%) “very well.”

Highly politically engaged social media users take more active steps to curate their feeds, respond to political disagreements

[Our emphasis] Data in this report are drawn from the July wave of the American Trends Panel. The panel, created by Pew Research Center, is a nationally representative panel of randomly selected U.S. adults living in households. They survey was conducted July 12-Aug. 8, 2016, among 4,579 respondents (4,165 by web and 414 by mail). The margin of sampling error for the full sample of 4,579 respondents is plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.

Direct to Full Text Report ||| PDF Version (39 pages; PDF)

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.