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Are you political on Facebook?

29 January 2014 Inderscience

Social media and networks are ripe for politicization, for movement publicity, advocacy group awareness, not-for-profit fund-raising campaigns and perhaps even e-government. However, the majority of users perhaps see these tools as being useful for entertainment, interpersonal connections and sharing rather than politics. A research paper to be published in the Electronic Government, An International Journal reinforces this notion. The results suggest that the potential for political activism must overcome the intrinsic user perception that online social networks are for enjoyment rather than utility, political or otherwise.

Tobias Kollmann and Christoph Stöckmann of the E-Business and E-Entrepreneurship Research Group, at the University of Duisburg-Essen, and Ina Kayser of VDI - The Association of German Engineers, in Düsseldorf, Germany, explain that while social networks have become increasingly important as discussion forums, users are not at present motivated to accept political decisions that emerge from such discussions. As such, Facebook is yet to properly break through as the innovative means of political participation that it might become.

The team roots this disjuncture in the psychological phenomenon of cognitive dissonance where two opposing concepts cannot be rationalized simultaneously and an individual discards one as invalid in favour of the other to avoid the feeling of psychological discomfort. For example, users enjoy logging on to a social network, such as Facebook, so that they can share photos, play games and chat online with friends. This is inherently at odds, it does not resonate, with the idea of Facebook being useful as a tool for discussing and implementing the perhaps more important realm of human endeavour we know as politics.

However, the team says, the advent of politically oriented Facebook games, such as "Campaigns" and "America 2049" blur the lines between the area of enjoyment and political discussion. Moreover, they point out that the boundaries were already blurred in terms of interpersonal discussions among some users where political discussion is facilitated by the network and also perceived as an enjoyable part of participation despite it falling in the "useful" camp. Indeed, the team's data from several hundred randomly selected Facebook users would support the notion that the perception of mutual benefit arising from political participation on Facebook positively adds to the perception of usefulness as well as being enjoyable. They allude to the fact that the findings might apply equally well to other so-called "Web 2.0" tools on the Internet.

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