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Does the Election have Facebook seeing Red - and Blue?


If you're like me, your friends on Facebook have been talking about the election.

I'm friends with supporters of President Obama and Governor Romney, and even a few who are advocating for Governor Johnson. But, I've been surprised by the variety of Facebook arguments that I've witnessed in the weeks leading up to the election. Most are heated debates championed by friends of friends who write passionately and with varying levels of grammatical prowess.

In my courses in the Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte, we've been discussing the role of Facebook as a gathering spot - not necessarily of like-minded individuals, but rather of friends, acquaintances, and peers. In our discussions, I've been thinking about the role of Facebook as a space

Some argue that Facebook is a podium for expressing opinions. They liken it to a microphone that can be turned up to share ideas with people, or to try to persuade anyone who will listen. Thereby, users on Facebook could and should advocate for selected issues. 

Others believe that Facebook is a dinner table around which friends are invited to gather. These folks suggest that dinner table conversations should avoid politics, sex, and money. Therefore, the socially aware Facebook user would refrain from discussing these topics.

Still others might argue that Facebook shouldn't look like an podium or a dinner table, but something else all together.

As educators who are researching, reflecting on, and teaching about social media use, perhaps our job is to ask others to do the same. To pause. To reflect. To consider the messages we send, when we choose to use social media, and for what purpose. Our role is to lead the discussion about the power of social media and to harness that power for the good.

I'm happy to report that the banter on Facebook on Election day appears to have changed. My friends and acquaintances are posting pictures of their "I Voted" stickers. This kind of civic encouragement might demonstrate the actual power of the platform: to encourage each other to act as citizens.

John A. McArthur is an assistant professor of communication in the Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte. Connect with him online at http://jamcarthur.com or on Twitter @JAMcArthur

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