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Heading into 2020, we knew that the presidential election was going to be controversial and hotly contested – and so did the big social media platforms. While claiming to be non-partisan and uninterested in all things political, Twitter and Facebook actually pushed a hyper-partisan social media agenda. At every opportunity, they inserted themselves into the national political debate in order to shape the overall narrative. That meant that your news feeds were chock-full of controversial issues, hot takes and lots of unsubstantiated rumors and fake news. In fact, engagement was so important to these social media platforms that they didn’t listen to their users, who repeatedly told them that all this political content was “stressful and frustrating.”
Pew Research data on stressed out American social media users
Consider, for example, that back in July 2020, Pew Research Center found that 55 percent of all adult social media users were “worn out” by all this partisan political content. That’s right – more than half of American adults couldn’t stand the thought of opening up their social media apps and finding controversy and uncivil political discourse. This percentage is way up from 2016, when just 37 percent of social media users were “worn out” by all the insults, invective and nasty political campaigning of both the Trump and Clinton camps.
Moreover, an overwhelming number of social media users (7 in 10) now view all political discourse in negative terms. They find political content on social media “stressful and frustrating.” And they willingly concede that all of this political content in their newsfeeds is not bringing people together. In fact, it is only separating them more. A whopping 72 percent of social media users say that they are finding less agreement, not more, when it comes to political dialogue with friends, family and acquaintances. For them, politics is just a hyper-charged, hyper-partisan mess.
How do social media platforms bring back users?
With that as context, the big social media platforms obviously have a lot of work to do in the coming year to bring back lapsed social media users. The social media platforms should have figured out a long time ago that they should have stopped showing political content in their newsfeeds. They should have stopped making politics a trending topic and they should have stopped taking sides in the national political debate. By now, everyone realizes that platforms like Twitter can be “weaponized” in the name of politics, and everyone now realizes that algorithms can be tweaked as a form of behavioral engineering. In other words, if the social media platforms want you to think and believe something, they have plenty of tools at their disposal to help shape your thinking.
It’s time to stop making social media a political weapon, and time to make social media a way for people to come together and unite. That might be the only way for social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to reinvigorate millions of stressed out, burned out Americans tired of viewing every single issue in political terms.