Feel like it takes special effort to avoid political conversation online? Well, that's one thing you and your social media connections can agree on this election season.
Facebook is just as political as Twitter, according to research from Pew Research Center. A quarter of users of each platform report "a lot" of what they see posted on each site is politics-related, and an additional 40 percent or so report at least "some" is political, according to a study released today.
These similarities are surprising in light of significant distinctions between the platforms. Two-thirds of Facebook users report most of their "friends" on the platform are people they know, while half of Twitter users report most of those they follow are strangers, according to Pew.
Study co-author Aaron Smith says the unexpected sameness of the two platforms helps explain "why people are finding this election season so challenging from a social media standpoint: Those debates and arguments are not just present on 'news and politics' platforms like Twitter, but are also prevalent on sites like Facebook that are much more structured around personal connections."
And, boy, are folks frustrated. More than a third of social media users reportedly feel "worn out" by political posts and discussions on platforms. When they themselves engage on these platforms in political discourse with users of opposing views, 59 percent say the experience is "stressful and frustrating" and 64 percent say they "have less in common politically" than they thought with those people. That feeling of frustration is mutual across party lines, according to Pew.
The study did not address whether social media silos users into echo chambers that match their political views, according to Smith, associate director of research at Pew. "I would definitely hesitate to claim that [the study] conclusively addresses that fairly complex subject," he says. The furthest he'll go on the topic is to point out that people aren't necessarily building their social network connections around the idea of who agrees with them politically.
"In fact, I would argue that this is part of what has made this election season so challenging from a social media standpoint, in the sense that people are having to figure out how to navigate lots of political content (some of which they disagree with very strongly or even find offensive) coming from people who they didn't really follow for 'political' reasons in the first place," he says.
And the flow of political posts you're seeing (if you haven't taken measures to filter them out) could be coming from a small core group of connections. Only 6 percent of Facebook users and 8 percent of Twitter users report posting "a lot" about politics.
You might wonder why these conversations seem so amplified if they are coming largely from only a subset of users. Survey results didn't answer the question of what role platform algorithms play in giving the megaphone to political conversations.
The role of platform technology "is really challenging to ask about in a survey since it's almost impossible for ordinary end users to know what parts of their experience are being produced algorithmically," Smith says. "It's definitely a hugely important subject that we'll be trying to tackle in the coming months/years."