The debate over the impact of social media seems to center around two arguments:
One camp argues social media opens new doorways for engaging the electorate and is creating pathways for greater civic engagement, corporate and political accountability, and journalistic integrity.
The other claims the speed of information and individual selectiveness of what we choose to hear on social media impedes critical thought. In short, social media closes us off from differing viewpoints, and thus stifles any form of debate.
So which argument is right?
We can’t dispute the incredible acceleration of social media use in the Pacific Northwest. However, its influence is far more complex than we tend to acknowledge.
Social media has clearly changed how we receive and engage with information. But many complex questions remain about exactly what role it plays in shaping public discourse – and its real impact on our perceptions of everything from electoral politics to policy debates.
What is the real impact of our growing use of social media on our collective perceptions of current events?
At its core, this question forms the basis of the topics explored in our latest report: Social Media’s Influence on Public Discourse in the Pacific Northwest.
Throughout, we have tested and analyzed the public’s use of social media – and their perceptions of its value in driving social and political reforms in Oregon and Washington State.
In this report, we unpack several critical questions:
- Do social media posts about current events, news, and social and political debates actually shape people’s opinions about those issues?
- Do people see social media as an echo chamber of likeminded viewpoints – and does it lead to the reinforcement of one’s own beliefs about current social and political debates?
- Is social media doing more than just changing the ways in which people consume news? Is it leading to greater awareness of important issues and current events?
- What is the public’s perception of social media’s value in our shared public discourse, the news media, and the business of communications?
These are big, complex questions that few behavioral scientists and researchers have been able to answer with much clarity. That said, this report aims to provide a degree of clarity for each question based on new research we’ve conducted in partnership with DHM Research.
Examining social media’s true influence is of monumental importance in the fields of communication, business, and civic engagement. As we near the 2016 elections, understanding how effective social media channels are in directing our social and political agendas remains a crucial field for continued study for anyone in strategic communications.
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