Thursday, September 24, 2009

Facebook and Political Engagement

I stumbled across this post that pointed me to this fascinating paper about Facebook and political engagement, including political knowledge, which was presented at APSA

Participation in online groups, according to the authors, "strongly predicts offline political participation by engaging members online." That's the good news.  The bad?  Facebook political discussions are unrelated to actual knowledge.

These results, the authors write, are "bitter-sweet."  While it's good that Facebook fosters engagement, the lack of improved knowledge is troubling.  Their content analysis of Facebook content provides a clue. 
The information content and quality of most wall posts were found to be very poor, generally lacking support for their claims, incoherent, or simply opinionated. In other words, group members are exposed to little new or well-articulated information about the political causes around which these groups form. The information is more likely to be reinforcing and therefore mobilizing, but not enlightening and therefore educational.
This is bad news for those of us hoping to see social media step up and be more than a way to waste one's time.  Engaging an uninformed public?  A next step, of course, would be to see whether the engagement prompted by Facebook use leads to seeking out information elsewhere.  The results here suggest not.

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