From global protests against racial injustice to the 2020 election, some Americans who use social media are taking to these platforms to mobilize others and show their support for causes or issues. But experiences and attitudes related to political activities on social media vary by race and ethnicity, age, and party, according to a Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults conducted June 16-22, 2020.
People can be politically active on social media in many ways. This survey asked Americans about four different types of activities that they may have engaged in on these platforms. Overall, about one-third of social media users (36%) say they have used sites like Facebook, Twitter and others in the past month to post a picture to show their support for a cause, look up information about rallies or protests happening in their area (35%) or encourage others to take action on issues they regard as important (32%). A smaller share (18%) reports using a hashtag related to a political or social issue on social media during this time.
Hispanic and Black social media users (46% and 45%, respectively) are more likely than white users (29%) to say they have looked up information about protests and rallies in their area on social media in the past month.
But in certain activities, Black users stand out: 48% of Black social media users say they have posted a picture on social media to show their support for a cause in the past month, compared with 37% of Hispanic users and 33% of white users. Black adults who use social media (45%) are also more likely than their Hispanic (33%) or white (30%) counterparts to say that in the past month they’ve taken to social media to encourage others to take action on issues that are important to them.
The share of 18- to 29-year-old social media users who say that these platforms are at least somewhat important to them for finding other people who share their views about important topics has risen from 47% in 2018 to 59% today. There have also been double-digit increases among younger users when it comes to getting involved with political or social issues and having a venue to express their opinions. By comparison, there has been little to no change on these questions for social media users ages 30 or older.
Thus social media perform the same function that Tocqueville ascribed to newspapers: “Then a newspaper gives publicity to the feeling or idea that had occurred to them all simultaneously but separately. They all at once aim toward that light, and these wandering spirits, long seeking each other in the dark, at last meet and unite. The newspaper brought them together and continues to be necessary to hold them together.” (Democracy in America, Lawrence/Mayer ed., p. 518)