Political Rants on Social Media: How Your Brain Perceives a Post

How far down do you have to scroll in your Facebook feed before you find a politically charged post? Probably not far. About one-third of social media users say they chat about politics online, with 9% of users frequently discussing politics with others on social media channels, according to a Pew Research Center study.

Which political party posts more frequently? Neither. The rate of discussion is almost identical.

Which age group is more vocal? None of them. You’re similarly liable to engage in a political discussion whether you’re under or over age 50.

Which platform – Facebook or Twitter – has more political discourse? It turns out they’re both about equal.

The consistency is a surprising, considering the sweeping range of demographics that use social media.

  • 88% of adults under 30 use Facebook, which might not be surprising, but more than a third of Americans over age 65 also have accounts.
  • An individual from an urban environment is just as likely to use Twitter as someone who lives in the suburbs. That makes sense, but it’s also just as likely for an individual from a rural environment to participate in discussions on Twitter.
  • Socioeconomic brackets are also well-represented; people who earn less than $30,000 a year are nearly as likely to have a Facebook page as those who earn more than $75,000 annually.

So why are people on different social media platforms, from different backgrounds, with different party affiliations, frequently engaging in politically themed social media posts? Americans thrive on negativity, for one thing, but there’s more to it than that.

It’s psychology.

Unsynchronized Communication

It’s easier to be frank and straightforward with a computer screen than another human being.

On Facebook and Twitter, there’s no such thing as body language. We don’t get a chance to empathize – we miss the opportunity to see how our words affect facial expressions, or what posture tells us about the inner workings of someone’s mind. It takes emotional effort to communicate with a human being.

We don’t have the same cognitive response when engaging with a computer.

Unpredictable Discussion

Unsynchronized communication makes discussions (and the emotions therein) hard to predict on social media. A lot of human communication is nonverbal. Organic. Intuitive. And it’s all lost in social media.

There’s no context to social media conversations, and because of that, the human brain often fills in whatever emotion first comes to mind. An innocent comment like, “Right, OK,” can take on all sorts of meaning when much of its communicating power is invisible.

When users post about something that’s already sensitive – like political news – readers tend to create a narrative that may or may not exist. These types of posts lead to many arguments, but do they ever succeed in changing readers’ minds?

The Persuasive Power of Political Posts

Surprisingly, one-fifth of social media users say they’ve modified their political views based on a social media post. These changes in belief, however, are almost always negative in nature. They typically involve a user discovering some unfavorable aspect about a political candidate or cause that inspires the user to change affiliations.

Conversely to those whose opinions were swayed, almost one-third of social media users have adjusted their settings to see fewer political posts, while more than one-quarter of users (most of them self-identified as liberals, according to a Washington Times study) have gone so far as to outright block a friend who was overly political.

If you’d like to join the block party, here are a few easy apps you can install to clean up your Facebook feed:

  • Remove All Politics from Facebook, a toggle switch that can immediately shut off political discussion on your feed.
  • Social Fixer, which operates similarly to Remove All Politics from Facebook, but with a few more options for customization.
  • News Feed Eradicator (for Google Chrome), which, as its name suggests, gets rid of your news feed entirely.
  • LeechBlock, which can block you from social media entirely, solving the problem altogether.
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