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Skip to 0 minutes and 1 second We have previously seen how other people have discussed the impact of social media on politics. But today, in this discussion, we will explore what we found out in our research. Starting with Mardin, my field site in southeast Turkey, we found out that people’s concern with their relations to others has played a key role in shaping political participation. Mardin is a town with a history of political conflicts and violence, and for this reason, people tend to not discuss politics in public spaces, such as cafes, restaurants, or streets. Public interactions are, rather, ruled by norms of politeness and respect.

Skip to 0 minutes and 40 seconds And people tend to talk about politics in the private space of the house with family or friends and with those who share the same political point of view. Are there people talking about politics on social media at all? Actually, the situation on social media is that they produce and reinforce and both even farther. I found out that people very rarely talk about local politics on social media, especially when these involve those who live in the town. They, rather, prefer to write comments about regional or international politics. And in those occasions, when they write comments and post memes on very sensitive issues, they often end up unfriending each other. But I’m sure that this is not the case only for Mardin.

Skip to 1 minute and 21 seconds How is the situation in Italy? Yeah, actually, even if circumstances are so different when it comes to social media, we have a very similar situation in Italy, too. Because, actually, here on Facebook, people express their political views only if they know that most of their friends share those political views. Fortunately, there is another level of political commentary which everyone can agree on, which includes the more general criticism of the Italian state corruption or more general concerns like the high level of unemployment, and education, and the future of the European Union. Oh, wow. I think the situation is very similar in South India as well. I’ve seen people posting on international politics, national politics, and even state politics.

Skip to 2 minutes and 8 seconds But then, I’ve never seen anyone posting anything in local area politics. And I think that’s because any criticism levelled against a local leader, they are afraid that the leader might have vengeance against them, and then might actually take revenge on them. So all these criticisms levelled against a political body, a local political party or local leader, are always through private channels or, for example, on WhatsApp, or it’s always on a private conversation. OK, well, that’s interesting. Because in rural China, too, in my field site, actually, people tend to engage in political discussion in quite an indirect way online. But one of the key differences there is that people are increasingly turning to social media as their main source of news.

Skip to 2 minutes and 53 seconds And one of the reasons for that is that actually Tencent, the company who own the most popular platforms, WeChat and QQ, actually have journalists who write and publish the news articles themselves, which are then distributed to all of the users. And they appear in between the conversations that they’re having with their friends. Now, if you actually look at the content of these stories, what’s really interesting is although some of the stories are about corruption and things like this, it’s not the case that people in my own field site would actually choose to share those stories online. And even if they do share them online, they would very rarely share anything about their own kind of place.

Skip to 3 minutes and 40 seconds But it’s not that people don’t care about politics. They really do. And if you went to any restaurant in the town on an evening, you would find people talking in an animated and engaged way about political issues. That’s interesting. So we saw that people tend to avoid the issues of local politics on social media, or they treat them in an indirect way. People usually assume that political participation in social media is mainly affected by issues that are strictly political. However, we found out that people concerned with social relationships, and their desire to maintain good relations with others, and the desire to avoid conflict has played, a crucial role in shaping political participation on social media. Thanks.

Social media and politics - a global comparison

In this video we broaden out our discussion of social media and politics to include some of our other fieldsites.

Despite the diversity of our fieldsites some general conclusions seems to be emerging. It seems that in many places people avoid discussing local politics because it can be divisive. Their main concern is to maintain their relationships on social media and since politics is divisive this makes them cautious about political posting.

How does this compare with your experiences of politics on social media? Why do you think people post so many jokes about politics on social media? Do you feel social media can be effective in political campaigns? Do you have any experience of this?

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Why We Post: the Anthropology of Social Media

UCL (University College London)

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