Twitter, a political platform? | Press

Billionaire Elon Musko’s bid to take over Twitter has rekindled the debate over free speech and political polarization on the social network. However, contrary to popular belief, most Americans do not follow politics on Twitter.

Posted yesterday at 12:00 PM

Nikolas Berube

Nikolas Berube
Press

Not political

Politicians and activists like to use Twitter to inform themselves, defend their ideas, discredit their opponents and promote their cause in general. All of this sometimes “viral” activity can obscure one truth: only a minority of Americans are interested in politics on Twitter. This is one of the most amazing discoveries The U.S. Twitterverse political landscapeA study by researchers at the National University of Singapore and the University of Pennsylvania. “Social network users are like American society as a whole: they have a low level of political knowledge and a lack of interest in political affairs,” he wrote in 2020. authors of a published and recently updated study.

Floor lamp effect

Subhayan Mukerjee, an associate professor at the Department of Communication and New Media at Singapore National University and co-author of the study, notes that journalists and other commentators who collaborate with Twitter are victims of the “street lamp effect” or classic style. a parable about a drinker who invented to look for his lost keys under a lamppost just because there is light there. “Similarly, journalists writing on Twitter tend to use what they see [leurs flux politiques et d’autres comme eux, qui tweetent sur la politique] to support their views and draw often unjustified conclusions about the platform in general, ”explains Mukerjee in an interview.

Fun first

In his study, Mukerjee shows that the average American “ordinary” Twitter user had 10 entertainment-related accounts, one brand, one policy, one public figure, zero policy experts, 0 news sites. In short, for the average American Twitter user, the social network is mostly used to get news from the world of entertainment (music, Hollywood, etc.). In addition, among the most famous people expressing themselves on Twitter, most do not address political issues, the study notes. “Many non-partisan opinion leaders who speak out on Twitter overshadow partisan voices on the platform,” Mukerjee wrote.

Bad opinion poll

This misconception about people’s alleged thirst for political politics on social networks is not without consequences. For example, journalists and politicians regularly use social media to assess public sentiment. “However, in doing so, they may react to a distorted perception of reality,” because consumers who can interact on such occasions do not reflect the opinion of the average consumer, Mukerjee says. In addition, by quoting messages from political figures, journalists give them visibility that they probably would not have received “naturally” because, in general, few users track their accounts. “It may be necessary for media elite coverage in the media to be more focused on potentially important issues that affect more people, such as their positions on real issues, than on their activities in social media,” the researchers wrote.

disinterest

One of the findings of the study – that most Americans have few political followers – is rarely emphasized by analysts on Twitter or elsewhere, and this assumption should dominate the conversation, Mukerjee notes. “In fact, according to political scientist Yanna Krupnikov, the real divide in the United States is not between the right and the left, but between a politically engaged minority and a non-politically interested majority,” he says. The same goes for Twitter. Political content and trends on Twitter are not the same as the information people see on their feeds on a daily basis. It doesn’t make them fake, just unrepresentative. »

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