In a survey done earlier this year, we asked people whether they keep quiet about their political views online to avoid conflict with friends and family. Almost half, 49 percent, said that’s exactly what they did to duck what they had come to expect would be personal attacks in response to their political posts.
Republicans and independents were more likely to downplay their views than Democrats. Women were also more likely than men to downplay their views online, especially Republican and independent women. That fear of online retribution is antithetical to the concept of freedom of speech and as social media grows, it threatens to undermine the legitimacy of our political system writ large.
Venture capitalist and technology guru Mary Meeker issues an annual report on internet trends that is must-read for anyone trying to understand where new technology is going and its future potential impact on society. In her most recent analysis, released in June, she tells us that in 2019, people will spend more time on mobile devices than watching TV. They spend an average of 6.3 hours a day online between mobile devices and computers.
Twenty-six percent of people overall and 39 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds say they are online “almost constantly.” Forty-three percent of Americans get news from Facebook, 21 percent from YouTube and 12 percent from Twitter (according to a Pew study cited in the Meeker report).
But perhaps Meeker’s most important insight is this: “Owing to social media amplification, reveals/actions/reactions about events can occur quickly — resulting in both good & bad outcomes.” That’s why acting responsibly online with the good of the country in mind, matters.