You know how everybody's always raging on Facebook, with their political statuses, HuffPo links, and what not? Well, it's getting worse (or better, depending how you look at it). According to a new study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, over 70% of American adults on social-networking sites participated in some kind of online political activity in 2012 (or 39% of all American adults).
The activities studied included posting links to political articles, posting one's own thoughts on a political issue, liking others' posts about political or social causes, and belonging to activist groups on social-networking sites. And while the trend is moving online, it's important not to exaggerate social media's contribution to American civil engagement — the study notes that 48% of all American adults already take part in some kind of offline political activity, and that "Traditional political activities are most common among the well-educated and financially well-off, regardless of whether they take place online or offline. On social-networking sites, income-related differences are more modest — but civic engagement in these spaces is still most prevalent among those with higher educational levels."
So, the discussion is still reserved for a certain, more elite group of people. But on the bright side, young adults were just as likely to be engaged on or offline, and (not surprisingly) much more likely to be actively involved with political and social discussions on social networks. Even more interesting? Roughly 56% of the population said they had made some changes to their budget due to the recent economic climate, but that hasn't changed Internet use at all. Compared with those who reported they hadn't been impacted by slow times, the "affected" group was no less likely to use the Internet or own a cell phone. And they're equally likely to participate in political activities both on- and offline — even slightly more likely to have recently attended a protest or local political meeting.
What this study doesn't offer is any information on how annoying it can be to watch a political debate play out on Facebook. As we know all too well, the Internet tends to awaken a catty, angry side in just about anyone — and when you mix that with politics, things can get ugly. That said, we're thrilled to see that millions of Americans are able to engage with political issues more easily, and hopefully think about issues more deeply, because of the increasing interconnectedness offered by social networks. Let's just take these hard facts with one piece of advice: Keep talking, keep debating, keep engaging, but keep your head, too. We'll all get a lot further in this world if we can put extreme partisanship aside and work our way through the issues with a heavy dose of reasoned calm and mutual respect.