If you needed some compelling evidence that social technology is changing the way we interact with one another, a new poll by Ipsos Mori and King’s College Fund provides it. Over a third of young people aged 18-24, a group notoriously known for deep indifference and even aversion to mainstream politics, say that what they read on social media will likely influence their vote in the upcoming general election.
Social media comes fourth in a league table of potential influences on voting, ahead of leaflets on the doormat and after TV debates, newspapers and election broadcasts, respectively. 71 per cent of the respondents agreed that social media was providing a platform and a voice to people who wouldn’t typically participate in political debates.
But there were some significant concerns as well: 57 per cent of social media users agreed with the statement that social media sites like Twitter and Facebook were making the debate more divisive, while 50 per cent agreed that they were making debate more superficial.
So while it seems that social media can, potentially at least, have an important influence on engaging young people in political debate, respondents were clearly attuned to the downsides. Under a fifth of the total (19 per cent) said they would be more likely to trust a politician as a result of information gleaned from social media than from newspapers (a hefty 59 per cent disagreed with this statement). But the young are the most trusting of social media, with 32 per cent trusting what they see in their newsfeeds on Facebook and Twitter.
Ipsos Mori Social Research Institute MD, Bobby Duffy, said:
“…[What] This evidence suggests is that platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are becoming part of the natural fabric for the group both hardest to engage in politics and whose political opinions are least set in stone – young people.
Modern users of social media are sophisticated enough to recognise its disadvantages – and don’t seem to be dropping other news sources entirely – but its potential to widen access to politics could be key in halting the decline in political engagement among younger generations.”