Facebook, Twitter Are Not Used to Debate Politics: Pew Survey

With the 2012 elections nearing, social media sites continue to be sources of political information for prospective voters, but they're not being used for political talk, says a Pew study.

While many people are getting some of their news and information about the approaching November elections from social networking sites like Facebook, most of those people aren't using the sites for political debates or for political purposes, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project.

Interestingly, only about 25 percent of the 2,253 participants in the "Politics on Social Networking Sites" study said that social networking sites (SNS) are 'very important' or 'somewhat important' to them for debating or discussing political issues with others, according to the report. "Twenty-five percent SNS users say the sites are 'very important' or 'somewhat important' to them in finding other people who share their views about important political issues."

Those numbers could be lower than most people might have expected, as friendships are strained or become contentious when users post political comments on their social networking pages in Facebook, Twitter and other sites. In the online world, people are often discussing how they have deleted friends from their social networking accounts due to political views or topics that are offensive to others. A related Pew survey released this past March analyzed those kinds of developments in friendships online, as people learn that they don't always agree with their friends when it comes to politics.

In the latest survey, 36 percent of SNS users say the sites are "very important" or "somewhat important" to them in keeping up with political news, according to the Pew report. And 26 percent of the users say the sites are "very important" or "somewhat important" to them in recruiting people to get involved in political issues that matter to them.

"Of course, this means that sizeable majorities of social networking site users do say the sites are not too important or not important at all for those political activities," the report concludes.

Democrats are more likely than Republicans or independents to say the sites are important, according to Pew.

The survey was conducted from Jan. 20 through Feb. 19, with adults 18 and over. The margin of error for the sample is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

Two notable results from the survey stand out, according to Pew. Black SNS users were more likely than white SNS users to say that such sites are more important for political activities, while younger SNS users from 18 to 29 years old are more likely than older site users to think the sites are important for political discussions.

"There is considerable interest in the role that social networking sites (SNS) are playing in politics and campaigns," the report states. "Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney and scores of state and local candidates and countless advocacy groups are using Facebook pages and other social media tools to try to engage voters this year. At the same time, some analysts have expressed concerns about the impact of social networking sites on the broad political culture."

Also notable based on the results of the survey is that "the clear majority of SNS users do not report that their use of the sites has changed their political views or activity." Only 25 percent of SNS users say they have become more active in a political issue after discussing it or reading posts about it on the sites, while only 16 percent say they have changed their views about a political issue after discussing it or reading posts about it on the sites.

Contrary to what people might think, most SNS users in the survey-about 84 percent of the respondents-said they have posted little or nothing related to politics in their recent status updates, comments and links, according to the report. Another 63 percent said they posted nothing at all, and another 21 percent said they posted "just a little."

"Only 6% of these users say that most or all of what they posted recently on social networking sites is related to politics, issues, or the 2012 campaign," the report states.

In comparison, respondents were asked how much they talk about politics in face-to-face conversations with friends, as opposed to online discussions. "Some 33 percent say they have such conversations very often, 34 percent say they sometimes have such conversations, 20 percent say they rarely talk about politics, and 12 percent say they never talk about politics," according to the survey.