Social Media: Vehicle for Political Awareness and Activism

For most Americans social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are part of their daily lives; being checked once or even multiple times per day. But why do Americans use social media? A 2011 survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that nearly two thirds of users went on these sites in order to stay in touch with current friends and family members, while half also listed connecting with old friends as a reason they use these sites. These seem like the expected reasons for why people access social media but the list goes on, with one of the top functions of social media being political engagement.

Results from a 2012 study by the Pew Research Center found that 66% of social media users, or 39% of all American adults, have used social media for civic or political activities. These can include encouraging people to vote, posting their thoughts on political or social issues, reposting political content from another source, encouraging others to take action on political or social issues, belonging to groups involved in political or social issues, and following elected officials. This study shows that social media, despite being organized as networks and not hierarchies effect the ways people participate in political and social issues. Some recent issues, which come to mind for many include the marriage equality campaign that swept over Facebook, championing the symbol of an equal sign. Another example includes the recent outcry for justice in the highly publicized George Zimmerman trial. Issues like these are able to gain support through social media and thus create a more civic-minded and socially aware American public.

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