If You Want an Engaging Debate About Ideas, Stay Off Social Media, Study Warns

Increasingly, the Internet reflects our vision of the offline world where people naturally gravitate toward groups who already share our opinion on social and political matters. 

The technology many of us use to stay in touch with friends is poorly suited to creating meaningful debate and discussion, argues a new study which examined how revelations of widespread NSA media surveillance played out on Twitter and Facebook. Conducted by Rutgers University and the Pew Center for Research, the study points out that since social media functions as a bonding tool between groups and individuals, those who hold dissenting views are hesitant to express them. Groups formed on social media tend to be like-minded so contradicting people's opinions can result in exclusion which, psychologically speaking, is not a good feeling.


"'People who use social media are finding new ways to engage politically, but there’s a big difference between political participation and deliberation,' said Keith N. Hampton, an associate professor of communication at Rutgers and an author of the study. 'People are less likely to express opinions and to be exposed to the other side, and that’s exposure we’d like to see in a democracy.'"

Powerful search engines like Google add to the exclusion of dissimilar similar ideas by modifying algorithms to turn out search results that conform to our established online behavior. Increasingly, the Internet reflects our vision of the offline world where people naturally gravitate toward groups who already share our opinion on social and political matters. 

In his Big Think Floating Interview lecture, Harvard sociologist Nicholas Christakis explains how social tendencies are reflected in social media rather than determined by them.

Read more at the New York Times

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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