Social media has become an epicenter for news and politics. People worldwide use social media to stay up to date on current events and express their opinions on political and social issues.
Some analysts have argued that social media is one of the most significant contributors to the decline of democracy around the world. The Pew Research Center surveyed 19 economies to discover how the citizens of these countries view social media and if they see it as a constructive or destructive aspect of political life.
A Force for Good and Bad
Pew Research posed the overarching question of whether people believe social media is good or bad for democracy. Across the 19 advanced economies polled, 57% say that social media has been more of a good thing, while 35% say it has been bad.
The United States is a clear outlier in this poll, with 34% of Americans saying that social media has been good for democracy and 64% saying it has been bad. The United States remains a consistent outlier as different questions are posed throughout this poll.
Some countries had a majority of respondents say that social media has been good for democracy but simultaneously admitted that it can also have a negative impact on society in other ways, such as facilitating manipulation and division within societies.
A median of 84% of respondents across the 19 countries reported that having access to social media has made people easier to manipulate using misinformation and rumors. A median of 70% of people across all of the surveyed countries sees the spread of online misinformation as a significant global threat.
Many respondents also believe that social media has divided people more on political issues (65%). Additionally, people think that social media has made people less civil overall when discussing politics (40%).
With all this evidence against social media, it is hard to fathom that there could be a good side. The survey suggests that social media could make people feel more empowered than they do in their everyday lives. Most respondents in all of the countries surveyed reported that their political system does not allow them to influence politics. In nine of the 19 nations the U.S. included, 70% or more respondents share this belief.
Most people surveyed believe that social media is an effective tool for raising awareness and accomplishing political goals. 77% of respondents across all surveyed countries believe that social media effectively raises public awareness about political or social issues.
Politics is not the only focus for people on social media. Social media is also an effective outlet for expression. In 12 of the 19 countries surveyed, 40% or more respondents say they never post about politics or social topics.
A majority of respondents in the countries surveyed believe that social media is positive overall concerning democracy in their county. Singapore, Malaysia, Poland, Sweden, and Hungary poll the highest in this category, with 65% or more respondents from these countries sharing this belief.
Americans are the most negative opinions about the impact of social media on politics and democracy. 64% of Americans believe that social media is bad for democracy. Republicans and right-leaning Independents (74%) are likelier to think social media is negative than their Democrat and left-leaning Independent counterparts (57%).
Americans are also the most negative about social media making people more divided in their political opinions (79%). Americans polled the highest in this category. They also believe that social media and the internet have made people less civil when discussing politics (69%).
The Age Gap
While young people are the most likely in every country surveyed to use social media, the gap has slowly been closing over the past decade. Data from seven nations polled in 2012 and 2022 shows that the growth in social media usage has increased the most in 30-49-year-olds and adults ages 50 and older.
In the United States, there was only a 4% increase in social media usage from 2012 to 2022 in the 18-29 age group, but there was a 22% increase in the 30-49 age group and a 32% increase in the 50+ age group.
Young adults are also far more likely to say that social media has benefited democracy. In 12 out of the 19 countries surveyed, most respondents hold this belief. In the United States, 47% of adults ages 18-29 believe social media has been good for democracy compared to 35% of the 30-49 category and 28% of the 50+ category.
Young adults are more likely to say that social media is the best way to stay informed about domestic and international current events. Another benefit of social media that young adults see is that it has paved the way for the acceptance of people from other cultures.
Young people also believe that social media is an effective tool for changing people’s minds on political and social issues and raising awareness for those issues.
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