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Politics and the power of  social media:

Research on the role of social media platforms in facilitating political discourse


Technology/ Social media


Julia Shao; Kun Zhou; Naumita Pereira




In-person key informant interviews, framework analysis, structured debrief, coding; grounded analysis, concept generation, storytelling;


August 2016 - Oct 2016.


Design research process


We used to think social media brought people together...

Social media companies have recognized that they are playing a bigger role than ever in spreading political messages and facilitating political discourse globally, and with election season upon us, this is particularly true in the US.

But we learned that it is actually tearing people apart!
However, many have argued that although are more connected, we are not necessarily more in-the-know or more welcoming of political discourse.

We tend to only get pushed new sources that agree with our political views and when they don’t, we have a hard time relating and understanding each other, resorting to high rates of bullying and some people to check out from the conversation altogether.


Social media outlets are open to potentially change their algorithms, policies, and UI to enable the style of political discourse that their audience is seeking.

How do people engage? Over what? With whom? Why?



Due to bias and curated algorithms, people use ‘pull’ methods to gain intelligent content from credible sources

People want to be able to intelligently form and question their own POV by understanding like and opposing viewpoints.

A foot to the left or a foot to the right–Not the stuff on the end because it has no filters and holds no value to me.



I don't mind hearing my friends’ POVs. I‘m interested in reason. I listen, I don't shut it down. Everyone has a right to their opinion-- That’s what make this country what it is.



I try to be very educated. I also like to see both sides of an argument. I’d like to see the intellectual dialogue...Most of the news is like cheap talking points. This is one of the reasons that I like Morning

Joe, where they have very educated people on to have a healthy debates.



10% are politically is like only the same 10 people posting to educate their friends.



Facebook is not meant for trusted content, Reddit is better because it is anonymous...specifically for politics and for candidates.



Probably if I track it I will be horrified by how much time I spend on it. But I’m always looking at it when I am walking… or traveling in-between from work and before I go to bed. Or 2 or 3 in the morning when I wake up at night. I usually will have the news on and scan through the morning news too...



Due to ‘lack of respect’ online, people want ‘safe spaces’ in which they can comfortably interact without having to censor. Currently, this usually takes place in the form of face-face interaction.

Time is an issue, and people need digestible, ‘real-time’ content--Especially on-the-go.




Hear opposing ideas through selective and personal interactions.


Reading on the go to understand like/opposing ideas to develop a POV.


Reading and discussing within a select online community with a common discussion goal.

Deepening the conversation

Give people control over what they see

Set constraints around the conversation

People want to see building blocks rather than talking points.

Different people have different preferences regarding what they see. Help them easily choose/filter.

People want an easy way to see both sides of the story.

People want engaging, constructive conversations in their networks but are concerned about who they share what with.

“Back it up game”

See the motivation behind P.O.V.s

Easily switch between the two sides

Assign a color based on how biased the sources are

Pair blue and red supporters to from time-limited discussion groups

Filters on the browser

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