Worn out by social media election trash talk? You’re not alone

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Image by Kacper Pempel /Reuters

Image by Kacper Pempel /Reuters

Democrats and Republicans alike are “worn out” by political content and posts on their social media feeds, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.

More than one-third of users said they were tired of the volume of political content clogging their social media feeds, with 59 percent saying that the political discussions found there were also more “stressful and frustrating” than informative.

In a presidential race marked by two of the most disliked candidates in history, such results might not be surprising.

But unlike the partisan rhetoric online, users’ frustrations with what they are seeing on social media does not break down along party lines.

“Republicans and Democrats are equally frustrated,” Aaron Smith, associate director of research for Pew Research, told PBS NewsHour. “There are not a lot of partisan differences.”

Smith said people speak more openly and harshly about politics online than they do in person, which can quickly escalate disagreements about which candidate or policy is best.

“In all the ways we measure, it is more intense during presidential campaigns, and this one is particularly intense in a lot of ways,” Smith said.

About half of 4,500 users surveyed from July to August 2016 said they viewed the tone of the political conversations they saw on social media in a negative light. They said the discussion of politics online was angrier (49 percent), less respectful (53 percent) and less civil (49 percent) than in other venues.

However, others said they still see value in using social media as a political outlet. One-third of politically engaged users think Twitter and Facebook are good platforms for alternative points of view.

“Those that are politically engaged, compared to those who are less engaged, are more likely to see positives in how social media can help connect people and learn more,” Maeve Duggan, the study’s research associate, told the NewsHour.

Users also aren’t always thinking about politics when they build connections online, Duggan added. Pew’s research found that half of social media users were surprised to learn which candidate their online friends favor in this presidential race.

What people see also depends on which social media site they use most.

“On both Twitter and Facebook, people are seeing equal amounts of political content, although Facebook is more personal and Twitter is more widely used for breaking news,” Duggan said.

Some users are fed up and take action to guard themselves from political discussion. Thirty-nine percent of those surveyed said they changed their social media settings to minimize content they see about politics, while 27 percent have blocked an account because of someone’s political ideology.

Just nine percent said social media is a helpful platform to learn more about political candidates.

With Election Day right around the corner, don’t expect the political tone on social media to soften anytime soon.

The post Worn out by social media election trash talk? You’re not alone appeared first on PBS NewsHour.