Engaging the Brain as Well as the Heart: Political Literacy and Social Media Platforms
Social media is now common currency in the daily lives of most people, particularly younger people (Langford and Baldwin 2013). The Youth Citizenship Commission’s final report noted that the prevalence of these channels offers both opportunities and challenges to
political literacy and engagement. Opportunities range from the capacity to receive and share information, but also to interact with a global audience. But challenges are also widespread, and include selective consumption/interaction, inadequate representation of viewpoints, limitations in the space available to communicate, and knowing the degree to which information online is actually valid.
Social media is now more prevalent in politics, being widely employed as a tool of communication by political campaigns (for e.g.: Gibson and McAllister 2011). It also has an important agenda-setting function, with many news stories now broken via channels such as Twitter. We are also beginning to observe social media having impacts on voter behaviour with research by Bond et al. (2012) illustrating that receipt of messages on Facebook had an effect on voter turnout in the 2010 US mid-term elections.
The increasing importance of social media in politics is shifting attention to how these tools can be used more effectively to increase political literacy and engagement in order to create a more informed and critical citizenry who are savvy in their social media interactions. Building on our research of social media platforms of the Scottish independence referendum 2014, a dimension of which has explored the content of over 5,300 social media comments on the BBC’s Have Your Say (HYS) discussion threads, this article identifies five points that users of social media platforms need to keep in mind when evaluating contributions and information obtained from these channels.