So it was with great interest that I read a study just released two days ago by the Pew Research Group showing that in fact, some minds are changed by what shows up on social media... just not very many.
According to a survey conducted this summer of over ten thousand U.S. adults, 20% of social media users said that they have had their opinion swayed by something they've seen posted. Conservative Republicans were the least likely to change (13%) and liberal Democrats the most (25%), which is perhaps unsurprising given two things -- studies have shown that conservatives have a greater desire for certainty and intolerance of ambiguity, and that conservatives tend to have a greater distrust of media in general than do liberals.
Still, it surprised me that so many people report changing an opinion. We tend to surround ourselves, both on social media and in real life, with people who think like us -- the so-called "echo chamber" effect -- so a lot of us don't get presented with well-thought-out opposing opinions in any case. But respondents on the Pew survey report being swayed on some pretty important issues. Here is just a small sampling of responses:
- Black lives matter vs. All lives matter: I’m white. Initially, I saw nothing wrong with saying "All lives matter" – because all lives do matter. Through social media I’ve seen many explanations of why that statement is actually dismissive of the current problem of black lives seeming to matter less than others and my views have changed.
- My view on the police has dramatically changed after being faced with case after case of police violence especially against communities of color.
- More pro-gun laws now due to statistics presented in specialized social media presentations of gun laws elsewhere in the world and their effect on public violence.
- I would say that I’m for a harder approach on immigration after reading social media.
I don't know about you, but I find this fairly heartening. The cynical side of me -- never very deeply buried -- has been reinforced considerably by the posturing and snarling I've seen during this election cycle, in some cases by people who previously I had considered to be thoughtful and tolerant. It's good to know that my pessimism may, in some cases, be unwarranted. 20% may not seem like a lot, but it does attest to a level of flexibility that I had not anticipated.
Nice, sometimes, to find myself in that 20% -- induced to change my mind, in this case with regards to a rather dismal view of my fellow humans.