Is Twitter Good or Bad for Democracy?

As it turns out, it’s a little of both. In a survey of political Twitter users, more than 40% said they follow leaders they usually do not agree with politically. That number is nearly double the percentage of blog users who read blogs that challenge their views. In addition, in-depth interviews with some of the survey respondents found that those who follow leaders they disagree with on Twitter are following many of them.

That’s the good news. Here’s the bad news: Those in the survey who identified themselves as strong conservatives or strong liberals were more likely than the less ideological to avoid leaders they disagree with and to follow only leaders they agree with. These results are different from past studies on political website use, which found that the ideologically strong were not the most likely to avoid political websites that challenged their views. As a result, political Twitter use among the highly ideological does potentially harm their ability to understand opposing views and be politically well-rounded. All these results are from my new book – Politics and the Twitter Revolution: How Tweets Influences the Relationship between Political Leaders and the Public (Lexington Books, 2012): http://www.amazon.com/dp/0739165003/ref=rdr_ext_sb_pi_hist_1

By the way, you might wonder what constitutes “strong conservatives” and “strong liberals.” In the survey, respondents were asked to rate their political views on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being “very conservative” and 10 being “very liberal.” Those who answered 1 or 2 were labeled strong conservatives and those who answered 9 or 10 were labeled strong liberals. So the negative effects presented here don’t apply to anyone who rated themselves between a 3 and an 8.

Finally, one of the best ways to be exposed to opposing viewpoints on Twitter is to check out a variety of political hashtags, such as #tcot (which stands for “Top Conservatives on Twitter”) and #p2 (“Progressives 2.0”).

 

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