Chamil Rathnayake, University of Hawaii at Manoa
Jenifer Sunrise Winter
Social media platforms are often associated with political mobilization, dissidence in particular. Previous studies have examined online political action, indicating that particular uses of social media fit with political motivations. Examining the connection between social media and politics can occur on multiple levels. On a more explicit level, researchers examine the role social media platforms play in political action, such as in protest movements or campaigns. On an implicit level, researchers can examine the fit between perceived uses of these platforms and political attributes of users, such as tolerance and dogmatism. Such an analysis can reveal underlying connections between what users expect from social media platforms and their political attributes, which in turn can show how platforms can be designed for those who have certain political attributes. Accordingly, this study connects social media uses and gratifications with two important political attributes, tolerance and dogmatism.
Despite its theoretical significance, the notion of affordances has not adequately permeated social media uses and gratifications literature. Bridging this gap, Sundar and Limperos (2013) and Sundar (2008) suggest an affordance-based conceptual framework (MAIN model) to measure new media uses and gratifications. Rathnayake and Winter (2016) developed a measure based on Sundar and Limperos’ work to capture social media uses and gratifications representing four classes of affordances. This study uses that measure to examine social media uses and gratifications that can characterize political tolerance and dogmatism, two crucial factors that affect political behavior. Understanding uses and gratifications that can characterize levels of political tolerance and dogmatism is important, as it can help redesign platforms in a way that helps them to overcome behavioral tendencies that hinder the potential of social media to enable political dialogue. Accordingly, understanding uses and gratifications that can characterize tolerance and political openness can help create a more politically open and tolerant space.
A random sample of 313 American citizens was collected using a survey instrument that included items from the social media uses and gratifications scale (Rathnayake & Winter, 2016), a revised dogmatism scale (Crowson, 2009; Shearman & Levine, 2006), and political trust items suggested by Pattie and Johnston (2008). Two Confirmatory Factor Analyses (CFAs) showed that the measures were appropriate for further analysis.
Those with high political dogmatism had high mean values for agency (Mean: 4.21), community building (Mean: 4.09), filtering (Mean: 4.14), browsing (Mean: 4.13), and play (Mean: 4.03) gratifications of social media. However, individuals with low and moderate dogmatism gravitated toward neutral perceptions. A discriminant analysis was conducted to identify uses and gratifications that can best characterize individuals with high levels of dogmatism as opposed to others. Standardized canonical discriminant function coefficients for the model indicated that realism (0.635) and play (0.401) have a high ability to discriminate between individuals with different degrees of dogmatism. An independent samples t-test showed that there are significant differences between those who have high and low levels of dogmatism in terms of their perception of realism (t: -6.967, p<0.05) and play (t: -6.062, p<0.05). This model correctly classified 75.8% of original grouped cases.
Those with high tolerance indicated higher perception of coolness (Mean: 3.89), agency (Mean: 3.98), community building (Mean: 3.89), filtering (Mean: 4.02), and browsing (Mean: 3.99). The standardized canonical discriminant function coefficients showed that coolness (0.563), filtering (0.434), and browsing (0.456) have high capacity to differentiate between subjects with high and low political tolerance. Perception of these three constructs is significantly different between subjects with high and low political tolerance (coolness: t: -4.529, p<0.05, filtering: t: -4.370, p<0.05, browsing: t: -4.736, p<0.05). The mean values showed that those who have high political tolerance perceive these affordances more than those with low tolerance. This model classified 74.2% of grouped cases accurately.
Political dogmatism is a trait characterized by political close-mindedness and unchangeable certainty (Shearman & Levine, 2006). However, this does not mean a lack of ability or intention to interact, build communities, and use social media for political or other purposes. These results show that political close-mindedness does not keep social media users from experiencing social media uses and gratifications. There are many uses and gratifications that might fit individuals with high dogmatism, and these findings can help redesign platforms in a way that helps them to overcome political close-mindedness. There can also be many factors that enable politically tolerant users to perceive gratifications like coolness. For instance, diversity in social networks positively influences tolerance (Ikeda & Richey, 2009), and therefore, tolerance can be an indicator of a more diverse social network.. Highly tolerant users filter their social media content more than others, indicating that tolerance does not mean that users accept everything on social media. Overall, these results can help create more politically open, engaging, and tolerant platforms.
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