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The ‘Facebook’ Impeachment? How Public Perception Of Hearings Will Likely Be Driven By Users’ Social Media Habits [Analysis]

The impeachment inquiry enters a new phase on Wednesday. For the first time, depositions given by key witnesses will be delivered in a public forum, allowing Americans the ability to hear for themselves the qualms and concerns that members of the administration, past and present, have about President Donald Trump.

NBC, CBS, ABC, and other cable networks are set to air specials and pre-empt regular programming to discuss the major happenings of the inquiry as they happen in real-time. Those reports will likely be reiterated upon during those channels’ respective evening news broadcasts.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

But there shouldn’t be any doubt about it: a large segment of America, perhaps even most of the citizenry, will get their news from social media video postings on the internet, rather than television, which has seen dwindling viewership numbers over the years when it comes to news broadcasts.

Americans in the past have had to rely on traditional media to get information about such hearings. Both the Nixon and Clinton impeachment inquiries were broadcast on television in a time when the internet wasn’t a thing or, as was the case under Clinton at least, was still too young to affect viewing habits of what went down during the day.

Now, Americans have the opportunity to stream the impeachment hearings online — which also creates a problem. Many simply won’t do so, opting instead to see clips of the big statements from lawmakers and witnesses who appear this week and beyond later in the day.

That’s a big problem, because our social media habits dictate the kind of news we tend to get. Motivated cognition is a psychological term that is defined as our tendency to behave in ways that achieve an outcome we find preferable. This is a good thing to have when it comes to grocery shopping, but not when it comes to our news habits — we tend to get stuck in a “bubble,” which makes it very hard for opposing viewpoints to permeate into our consciousness.

Those who DO end up watching television usually do so through cable networks. But our cable news stations are segmented, too, providing little in objective reporting and catering instead to the ideologies of viewers.

This is an issue on both sides of the aisle, but it’s particularly noticeable on the right these days. Take, for example, the Mueller report, which found at least 10 instances of Trump engaging in behavior that could be deemed as obstructing justice. Robert Mueller also stated clearly and unequivocally that his report did not conclude that Trump had not committed a crime.

But Fox News viewers thought differently. Of those who got their news primarily from that source, 83 percent said that the Mueller report cleared Trump of any wrongdoing, according to one poll. That’s a significant finding, considering that 45 percent of the general population in the poll said the report did not clear Trump, while only 35 percent said that it did (20 percent were unsure).

While Fox News is going to shape some Americans’ views on the impeachment hearings, social media will also undoubtedly play a role, too. Whether we follow friends with certain viewpoints or subscribe to news media on Facebook, Twitter, or on other social sites, our media consumption will be warped by our preconceived notions that we already held about impeachment.

If you believe Trump is an innocent actor in this saga, you will likely continue to do so, if all you do is look at your social media. If you think Trump has committed an impeachable offense, your views also won’t likely change.

It’s a fair assessment to say both liberals and conservatives need to do better when it comes to consuming news. But on this particular issue, the worry needs to focus on one side: the conservative one. It’s clear to any objective observer during this entire ordeal, as more news of what transpired between Trump and the president of Ukraine gets revealed, that something is amiss.

Polling demonstrates most Americans know that what Trump has done is impeachable, at the very least. Many polls show that a plurality of Americans want Trump removed from office. But public opinion is still split at the moment, with a still-large segment of Americans believing nothing wrong happened or that Trump is being unfairly targeted.

To get Republicans in the Senate to move on the matter will require a groundswell of public upheaval and dismay toward Trump. However, that sort of upheaval faces a difficult task in the age of social media. Will the public testimonies sway public opinion? Or will the sharing of videos, news articles, and so on be fragmented again by our online habits, rather than the facts at hand?



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