Social Media Use of News and Individual’s Political Participation

Huxley visions that people will come to love the technologies that make their life much convenient and at the same time, make the access to information much easier than before. In other words, people tend to adore the technologies that require them to think less. However, new technologies would give us too much assistance that we would be reduced to passivity, therefore, Huxley fears that people would become a trivial culture and would be controlled by inflicting pain. It seems that what we love or rely on the most will ruin us to some extent (Postman, 1985).

The television is for sure one of the new technologies that have a significant influence on people’s life, and even change people’s behaviors on information consumption. Evidence was found in Gentzkow’s paper that the entry of television coincided with drops in consumption of newspaper and radio, and in political knowledge (Gentzkow, 2006). Gentzkow found that there was a sharp decline in political participation in the years after television’s introduction, the sharp drops in newspapers and radio’s consumption reduced citizens’ knowledge of politics. The reason might be largely lied on the content provided on television compared to contents provided on traditional media as newspapers or radios. Television was a dramatic improvement in the quality of entertainment to most users, it may very likely have reduced users’ time spent on news consumption. This would in turn reduce turnout in political elections. It was also confirmed by Gentzkow that television news provided less political information than newspapers or radio. As reported from his study, respondents in counties with television were less likely to be able to name candidates in the elections. The television differentiates from newspapers and radio based on below characteristics:

Message discourse on television is conducted mostly through visual images, however, message conveyed on newspapers and radio are in audio and contextual forms. This is to say that television shows people a conversation in mages rather than words. The image-based political news attest to the fact that television demands a distinct type of content from other media. When political news was broadcasted through the television, we cannot expect a very positive result as compared to entertainment news. We may find that both the image of appearanceand the image of personal characters of the politicians have replace ideology as the field of expertise over which politicians must have competent control.

The television is indeed a visual delight, it was showed by previous research that the average length of a shot on television is only 3.5 seconds. People hardly have enough time to rest their eyes on certain contents because there always has something new updated on the television. Newspapers and radio have more political coverage than television, ant what’s the most important, they convey news message in a form of audio and context, which is similar to “writing”. Writing makes it possible and convenient to subject thought to a concentrated scrutiny. The written word is more powerful than images or videos, it not only enables people remember things and contents, but also allows plenty of time for them to questioning as well as expressing their opinions.

Another thing needs to be mentioned about the television’s character is that, the television always offers viewers with more subject matters than object matters. It requires viewers little or even no effort to comprehend what was going on in the news. People don’t really “response to” or “interact with” an entertainment show, let alone political news on the television which require more focused attention as well as more time to form the objective opinions towards political issues. However, according to another study conducted by Kim and Chen (2016) in the paper Social Media and Online Political Participation: The Mediating Role of Exposure to Cross-cutting and Like-minded Perspectives, both blog and SNS use are positively related to online political participation (Kim & Chen, 2016). Blog (such as Twitter) and SNS are pretty much different from either television or other traditional media, they are online social media that play important roles in people’s everyday life as well as in a democratic society. The Internet makes it possible for people to take online political activities such as writing emails to politicians and visiting campaign websites and so forth. The Internet has also lowered the cost of political participation, thus boosts people’s online participants about political issuers to some extent. Research demonstrated that blogs positively influence people’s political engagement for some reasons. One of the reasons might be rooted in the blog’s role as information provider. Take Twitter as an example, it offers viewpoints distinct from mainstream media since the essential information regarding current events and political campaigns is not only provided by professional news editors but also other online users. Another reason might be that Twitter provides a platform for people to interact with other readers and bloggers. It allows people to express their political positions through feedback or comment functions. People will then form a strong sense of being part of the event thus willing to input more “valuable” thoughts onto certain political events.

One last character worth a talk is that the television leaves viewer little or no time to input thoughts of their own. When a political news is played on the television, people hardly have time to think nor do they have a chance to digest what was being input through their ears to brains. It would very likely create the impression of uncertainty, thus leads to ambiguous political positions.

The relations of social media use of news and individual’s political participation may also varies in different culture environment. As claimed by Boer et al. (2012), communication and culture are inseparable. The research compares France and the U.S., as France represents a higher-context culture where people are more reserved, whereas the U.S. represents a less contextualize cultural system with more spontaneity. The study reveals that there were far more views of the American political related ads than of the French ads, and American ads however were shorter. The study also states that American ads online were more negative on average than French ads online. It can then be inferred that culture differences may have impact on citizen’s political participation. As mentioned in the paper that the U.S. is more often situated as being a less contextualized cultural with more verbal explicitness, informality, and spontaneity, American citizens might show greater liberty in expression their political opinions online. As reported from CNN that the head of the Federal Communications Commission is working on the offensive against tech companies in an effort to repeal net neutrality rules. FCC chairman AjitPai accused Twitter and other tech companies since they “routinely block or discriminate against content they don’t like.” The net neutrality protection rules were intended to keep the internet open and fair. The act shows the firm determination of the U.S. in providing a fair and free online platform to their citizens, to express freely about their political positions. On the other hand, we need a careful rethinking of China’s Internet censorship beyond the framework as well. Studies on China’s Internet censorship are growing, previous researcher has called it an ideological dyad that delimited discourses about the Internet (Yang, 2016). There are particular restrictions exerted over individual freedom of speech on internet, online users need to carefully avoid some sensitive words or topic in the online environment. Most “restrictions” are seemed to be related to political issues, which will lead to somewhat conservative attitudes towards political events. Different policies and distinct cultural environment makes the difference between individuals’ political participation. To see the above as a whole, it seems that both content and culture differences influences people’s political participation.



Yang, F. (2016). Rethinking China’s Internet censorship: The practice of recoding and the politics of visibility. new media & society, 18(7), 1364-1381.

Gentzkow, M. (2006). Television and voter turnout. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 121(3), 931-972.

de Boer, N., Sütfeld, H., &Groshek, J. (2012). Social media and personal attacks: A comparative perspective on co-creation and political advertising in presidential campaigns on YouTube. First Monday, 17(12).

Postman, N. (1985). Amusing ourselves to death: Public discourse in the age of television. New York: Viking.

Kim, Y., & Chen, H. T. (2016). Social media and online political participation: The mediating role of exposure to cross-cutting and like-minded perspectives. Telematics and Informatics, 33(2), 320-330.

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