It is taken for granted that technology is changing every aspect of our lives but the speed at which things are changing is remarkable. According to a new report by Pew Research, from 2008 to the 2012 the number of political activities online has exploded. It found 39 percent of American engaged in some form of political activity on a social media site in 2012. By comparison, in 2008 only 26 percent of Americans even used social media. From Pew:
- In 2012, 17% of all adults posted links to political stories or articles on social networking sites, and 19% posted other types of political content. That is a six-fold increase from the 3% of adults who posted political stories or links on these sites in 2008.
- In 2012, 12% of all adults followed or friended a political candidate or other political figure on a social networking site, and 12% belonged to a group on a social networking site involved in advancing a political or social issue. That is a four-fold increase from the 3% of adults who took part in these behaviors in 2008.
What I think would be an interesting place for comprehensive political research is how this technological change may have affected issues that were traditional “closeted” or not talked about openly. Issues like marriage equality and marijuana reform.
While I don’t currently have a systematic study to prove this, I suspect the rise in social media might be an important reason the polling on same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization improved so quickly in only a few years.
Both issues have seen a surge in support that correlates closely with the birth of social media. Support for both issues has also been driven by younger voters who are the most connected. Finally, polling found knowing someone who is gay is the number one reason people give for changing their mind on marriage equality.
My hypothesis is that social media made it easier to “know” people directly affected so the issues are hard to demonize. I suspect social media has made it dramatically easier to learn that someone you know is gay or uses marijuana.
Similarly, social media has probably also made it likely regular people would encounter highly personal arguments for change instead of very general ones. So rather than hearing a general argument for marriage equality in the news for example, on Facebook people may see their cousin explaining why they want to marry their partner.
Image by webtreats under Creative Commons license