Mar 6, 2021 - Politics & Policy

America's media habits divide along political and racial lines

Protesters hold a Black Lives Matter banner.

Black social media users were twice as likely as white users to say they used a hashtag to promote a social or political issue, a Pew survey found. Photo: Wolfram Kastl/picture alliance via Getty Images

Race and identity play into the media platforms people use to advocate their politics, data show. 

Why it matters: People of color and Democrats are more likely to take to social platforms like Twitter to advocate for a cause, and to say that seeing something on social media changed their views. Republicans are increasingly turning to partisan outlets on TV, print and audio.

Details: In a Pew Research poll from this summer, Democrats were more than twice as likely as Republicans to post a hashtag for a political or social issue.

  • Black social media users were twice as likely as white users to say they used a hashtag to promote a social or political issue on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or any other social media site.
  • Nearly half (48%) of all 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.
  • The survey also found that Black adults who use social media (45%) are also much 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 Intrigue: Mexican Americans and Native Americans especially seek information on social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok because they don't see themselves on network TV or cable news, said Eli Magaña, a Las Vegas Democratic consultant with Vox Consulting LLC, a professional PR and training firm.

  • "When they do put Latinos on CNN or MSNBC, it's usually from an East Coast perspective and they don't understand Mexican Americans on the West Coast," said Magaña, who has amassed nearly 50,000 followers on TikTok by posting about Mexican genealogy. 
  • Tokata Iron Eyes, a 12-year-old member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, used #NativeTwitter to organize around the Dakota Access Pipeline protests and spread the #NoDAPL hashtag in 2016, when few mainstream news outlets covered the demonstrations over water rights.
  • #BlackTwitter is used to share information about unrest in Haiti, a new police shooting caught on video, or the latest fashion trends for African Americans.

What to watch: Following the Capitol siege, some conservatives may find that traditional channels are more skeptical of their message.

  • Simon & Schuster, one of the country's biggest book publishers, canceled plans to publish Sen.Josh Hawley's book, following an outcry over his role in supporting the Capitol attack on January 6th.
  • Elsewhere in the book publishing world, the editorial director of the conservative imprint at the Hachette Book Group was terminated, the New York Times reported, for, she believes, her political beliefs.
  • Conservative TV networks, like Fox News and Newsmax, have also started to treat conservative guests known for touting election fraud conspiracies with more caution, following a $2.7-billion defamation lawsuit and other legal threats.
  • Radio giant Cumulus Media warned conservative hosts to temper any allegations of election fraud following the siege.

What they're saying: "Social media is becoming increasingly hostile toward conservatives who feel their views aren't being respected," GOP consultant Danny Laub told Axios. 

  • Laub said a combination of social media mobs attacking conservatives and technology companies censoring conservative views has created a world where some Republicans increasingly go to right-leaning media outlets and avoid social media.
  • "This polarization is probably a net negative on democracy."

Go deeper: Activism defined social media in 2020.

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