Social and Political Issues in the Social Media

Introduction

Social network sites is a web based service which allows individuals to develop public profiles, articulate other members using the same system and be able to view a list of comments made by others within that system. The main characteristics of the social media are openness, participation, conversations, community and connectedness. Due to the rapid growth of the social media, the number of discussions that occur has increased tremendously. These discussions range from political, social, legal and technologic issues. The social media representation of information could be biased and tend to make followers believe on certain ideologies.

In this study, the researcher will evaluate the ways through which political and social issues are represented in the social media. The case study will focus on two countries, namely USA and China. The researcher will select different stories on the political and social scene and follow the discussions that occurred on the internet after these events. The discussion forums that are common in the social media will be used to perform the analysis so as to determine the perceptions among different users, the dominant themes and the effects that can result from negative political and social influence.

Research questions

In this study, the researcher will answer the following questions:

  • Is the social media used as a platform for political discussions?
  • Is the social media used as a platform for discussing social affairs?
  • How are political and social issues represented in the social media?
  • Are there dominant themes and perceptions within a given locality?
  • What are the likely impacts of using social media as a means for conveying social information?

Objectives of the study

The objectives of this study are:

  • To determine how political issues are conveyed through the social media
  • To determine how different social aspects are represented in the social media
  • To determine the dominant themes found in the social media of the two countries
  • To determine impact that the social media has in conveying political and social information

Methodology

Of the two research methodologies, that is, quantitative and qualitative research method, Qualitative research method will be used. In qualitative research methodology, the researcher makes knowledge and claims based on constructive perspectives that are drawn from individual experiences and social meaning (Creswell 2003). This research method assists in interpretations for complex social situations which don’t follow a given mathematical relationship.

In this study, discussions about various political and social events in China and America social media will be analyzed. The discussions will be drawn from both Facebook and Twitter. These two companies have a wide market share and they have numerous online discussions.

The first step will be to determine the major political and social activities in the last 3 years in both China and USA. It is expected that after the occurrence of these political and social activities, there must be a lot of social media discussions that follow. The researcher will then use systematic random sampling where he will visit popular sites and collect samples randomly. To avoid bias, a total of 40 discussions will be collected per country.

After collecting this information, the detailed content analysis will be carried out. This analysis will enable the researcher understand the dominant themes in these two countries, assess the impacts and effects of social media in conveying information, determine whether the social media has been effectively used to convey political and social messages accurately as well as asses the likely impacts that the social media would have triggered.

Background information

The social media platform is a technology or software’s that are used to develop, incorporate and facilitates community interaction and ensure that content developed by individuals can be accessed by a large number of people. The social media is mainly disseminated through social connections which are created through highly accessible and scalable online publishing (Duncan & Sheridan 2007). Social networking sites are based on services which allow individuals to build public and semi public profiles within a system, list other users who they can share information as well as see other connections and profiles made within that system (Ellison and Boyd 2007). The main aspects of social media are:

  1. Participation: The social media encourages participation by advocating for feedback from all those interested in a particular topic.
  2. Openness: It encourages members to be open, make comments, vote or share information.
  3. Conversations: The social media is also a two way conversation system where the sender of information is able to get feedback information.
  4. Community: the social media enable the establishment of communities quickly and effectively. These communities share common interests such political view, similar careers, social aspects, age among others.
  5. Connectedness: The social media share connectedness with others websites and one is able to connect with other sites, resources and people making it an effective communication method

The main social media sites are LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, flicker, iTunes, Second Life and MySpace. Due to the openness and lack of privacy, a lot of information is exchanged on the social media. There is the tendency of propaganda and unauthentic information flowing in the social media. SNS also allows people to voice their opinions which may have negative or positive impacts on those reading them. The credibility of information passing through the social media is therefore questionable as there is no one to account for information circulating in these sites. This research work seeks to explore how social networking sites propagate political and social information. The research will determine the rate at which this political and social information flows, the angle and perceptions taken by different users on different political issues, the possible impacts that the messages can have and the difference between users in America and those in China.

Research questions

This research study seeks to answer the following questions:

  • Are social media sites used to discuss political and social news in both America and China?
  • What differences exists between social networking sites (SNS) users in the two nations
  • What are the dominant themes contained in the political and social messages?
  • Are SNS sites an authentic and credible source of political and social information?
  • What impacts does SNS have on the political and social environments in the two nations?

Objectives of the study

The main objectives of this study are:

  • To determine the overall utilizations of social media for conveying political and social information
  • To determine the variability in utilization of social media in the two different nations
  • To elaborate the perceptions people convey through SNS
  • To determine If social media is a credible source of political and social information
  • To evaluate the impacts and effects that SNS sites can create on the potential consumers

Justifications of the study

Social media sites have a great following especially among the young and middle aged people. These people have the ability to gain information, edit it and pass it on to their colleagues in a satirical manner. During this process, the meaning of the message can be altered and the recipient of the information may get wrong information. It is therefore necessary to carry out a research and determine if political and social information on SNS is authentic and credible.

The SNS allows people to voice their opinions and views on different aspects. Various messages that are uploaded on these sites carry different themes that drive people towards a given direction. For example, USA residents view China as an enemy and any political issues from that country is portrayed negatively while Chinese residents also view Americans negatively. The study will examine and evaluate the political and social messages to determine if these dominant themes are used in drafting the political and social messages. The research will also examine the bias that exists in the responses that are given by the SNS users. It is expected that most of the users are biased and this would definitely affects the responses they give.

With the growing number of SNS users, it is expected that comments and views circulating in SNS could be potentially dangerous. China which has regulated internet, carefully evaluates sites to ensure that any incitement messages are blocked. The research will evaluate the possible impacts that SNS has on the users of these sites.

Theoretical framework

The theoretical framework shows the connections that exist between the impacts and effects of SNS on the political and social information. The main factors affecting the effectiveness of SNS in conveying political and social information are, the individual’s perception, the dominant ideologies of people within a given locations, the credibility of the sites and the variability of information. The effectiveness of the SNS will then either impact negatively or positively on the users. The table below shows the theoretical framework to be used

The theoretical framework for the research work
Figure 1 showing the theoretical framework for the research work

Literature Review

Social media has been regarded as a powerful tool that causes significant impact on individuals and professionals who use it for communications. The social media has been gaining popularity with most of the users having intensive connections with each other and with other websites. As the social media gains popularity and scope, the political and cultural perceptions are being used by politicians and other activists to impact social and political changes. More and more people are depending on the social media for information and hence the influence that SNS is increasing rapidly (Fang et al. 2004). The SNS have the ability to reach out to many people hence the politicians and other social activist can use it to cause changes.

Most of the politicians rely on the SNS for effective campaigns that reach out to many young people. According to Suomen (2009), the SNS are currently being used for political and regime change. The demonstrations at Cairo to oust president Mubarak of Egypt were largely spread through the SNS. Such influences could be dangerous as the public can be motivated to perform negative activities. SNS is also widely used to market products and also propel certain agendas (Ranjitha 2012). In this research, the use of SNS for political and social changes will be evaluated.

As the social media becomes a main tool for political and civic engagement, it has been found out that most Americans are using the SNS for political discussions (Suzana 2009). The nature and extent of these discussions are mainly influenced by the political inclinations of the users. There are mixed partisan and ideological patterns in most of the SNS and these people affect the perceptions of other users. Due to the partisan nature of the SNS users, it is expected that most discussions will have a particular political inclinations (Mernit, 2009). These inclinations may affect the users positively or negatively.

Most researchers have dwell on the positive impacts of SNS for political campaigns and social change but don’t look at the potential harm that would result if biased news spread through the system (James 2003). In this research, I seek to check the impacts that political and social news can have on the users.

Research Methodology

Research method

Qualitative research methodology will be used to conduct this research. According to Creswell (2003), qualitative research methods is one through which an individual makes inquiries about knowledge claims based on the constructivist perspective with the intentions of creating a pattern or theory or a given perspective. This method is mainly used when mathematical calculations can’t be used to make deductions. It enables the researcher analyze complex social situations that don’t follow any mathematical laws or relationships. Qualitative analysis allows people to study things in the natural senses and interpret the meaning that people derive with them. The main qualitative methods encompass non laboratory reviews, case studies, observations and discourse analysis (Denzin and Lincoln 2003). Under the ambit of qualitative research method, the researcher will use case study to conduct the research (Yin 2003). The use of SNS will be checked between two countries. The researcher will gather materials from SNS relating to political and social information in the two regions.

Data collection techniques

There are two main methods used for data collections, these are; primary and secondary data collections protocols. The researcher will use secondary data that is available from the social networking sites and the online media. The information will be collected from Facebook and Twitter and other online media sources that ask people to leave feedbacks and comments (Myers 1997).

Sampling method: systematic random sampling methods will first be used to identify the political and social information. This information will be collected based on the major political events such as USA and China elections, during war periods, and other contentious issues around the world.

The sample size: to analyze the political and social information in SNS, a total of 40 comments will be analyzed per country. In total the researcher will have 80 comments and discussions to analyze.

Data collections procedure

The data collections procedure is shown below

  1. Check the main political stories in the online newspapers such as New York Times and China daily
  2. Follow the comments that people have made at the bottom of the stories
  3. Select the discussions that follow using the systematic random sampling
  4. Analyze the stories, discussions and comments

Data analysis techniques

Yin (2003) describe data analysis as the method of examining, categorizing, tabulating , testing and recombining qualitative evidence so as to address the initial propositions of study. To analyze the data, pattern matching will be used to determine the main themes and ideologies in all the discussions within a given locality. Explanation building will be used to develop cause and affect relations suitable for analysis the effects of SNS discussions on the populace. The data analysis procedure is outlined below

  1. Content analysis: The researcher will read all the selected discussions so as to derive the meaning of each of the short discussions and stories
  2. Grouping: Similar discussions will be lumped up together; this will be based on the themes and ideologies that the discussions portray
  3. Dominant themes: The dominant theme and perceptions will then be derived from the discussions. The dominant themes will be common on most of the discussions
  4. Comparative analysis: The researcher will check the discussions on the social media against the original story so as to establish bias and credibility of the discussion in social media
  5. Regional comparative analysis: the researcher will check if there exist similarities and differences between SNS users in USA and China.
  6. The effects and impact of these discussions will be then be determined using the cause effects relationships

References

Creswell, J. W 2003, Research Design – Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches, Thousands Oaks, Sage Publications, California.

Denzin, N. K. & Lincoln, Y 2000, ‘Introduction: The discipline and practice of qualitative research’. Handbook of Qualitative Research. 2nd edition, Sage Publications, California.

Duncan, J, & Sheridan, P 2007, ‘Influential, Networks, and Public Opinion Formation’, Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 34 no. 4, pp.441-458.

Ellison, B. and Boyd, D 2007, ‘Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship’. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, vol.13 no.1, pp. 210–230.

Fang,W, Bernardo, A, Adamic, L, &Tyler, J 2004, ‘Information Flow in Social Groups’. Physica,Vol. 337 no.1, pp.327-335.

James M. E. 2003. Social Networking Services: The New Influence Frontier. Web.

Mernit, S. 2009, Using social media for social change, Web.

Myers, M. D 1997, Qualitative Research in Information Systems. MIS Quarterly,vol.1 no.1, pp. 241-242.

Ranjitha, G 2012. ‘influence of social media websites on promotion of products and services among the users: an empirical study’. A Journal of Multidisciplinary Research, Vol.1 no 3, pp.1-8.

Suzana P. S. 2009. Social Media and its Influence on Politics. Web.

Suomen,T 2009. Social media – the new power of political influence. Web.

Yin, K. R 2003, Case Study Research – Design and Methods. 3rd edition, Sage Publications, California.