This research entailed the study of the impact of social media on the political knowledge of international students at the Arkansas State University. Specifically, the research focused on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and MSN to gain this understanding.
Semi-structured face-to-face interviews were utilized, and 10 international students from the Arkansas State University aged 18 years and above were interviewed. The choice of participants was based on diverse variables including nationality, gender, the year of study, and their interests in political matters. Again, every participant had the chance to choose to participate in the study willingly. This was aimed at ensuring that better responses were gained for each of the research questions that had been put forward.
The uses and gratification theory was utilized in this research to gain an in-depth understanding of the reasons for the use of social networks among international students and the way this affects their understanding of political issues. It was crucial to understand the gratification they derive from the use of social media in their daily lives with a focus on political matters. There have been many studies on the impact of social media, but they did not have a narrow focus on the impact of social media on the political knowledge of international students.
Therefore, the research questions in this study seek to understand the motivation behind the use of the social media, the actual use of social media, and the effect of social media on promoting political knowledge among international students. The focus was mainly on social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter because people around the globe mostly use them.
The level of trust that international students have in the information they read from social media was also analyzed. Additionally, the research focused on the kind of information these students post on social media and the type of information they search hence promoting their political knowledge.
Aims of the Study
The aim of this study was to address significant questions relating to the use of social media and the contribution to their political knowledge. Thus, the first aim was to answer the question, to what extent does the use of social media by international students enhance or curtail their political knowledge? The second question to be addressed by this research was, to what extent does the international students’ exposure to political knowledge via social media influence their interests? This study would help in the understanding of the interests that international students have on political matters. The results of the study would also help reveal the commitment of international students in understanding political trends in their respective countries of origin via social media. More so, the second research question would lead to the influence of social media on the lives of international students, and whether they have interest in political matters or not.
Social media is taking over in all parts of the world. It is rare to find people reading information from print media. International students tend to rely on social media such as Facebook and Twitter to understand the happenings in their countries of origin and the U.S. The wide usage of social media around the globe justifies the selection of this topic and the aims of the research. The ease of access to social media via computers and smartphones implies that most of these students have an understanding of the intentions of this research.
Additionally, there is increasing contact among people around the world through social media platforms. International students always have the capacity to maintain contact with people from their countries hence ensuring they keep in touch with the happenings on the social and political scene. The increased connectivity among people around the world gives international students the opportunity to understand diverse matters including political changes and trends. Therefore, they always have the capacity to gain political knowledge from these sites.
The fact is that no research has focused before on the study of the impact of social media on international students’ political knowledge. This research is unique in the sense that it does not only address the influence of the Internet on international students, but it goes an extra-mile to address its impact on their political knowledge. This facilitates the overall aim of this study hence gaining specific knowledge relating to the international students at Arkansas State University.
International Students Studying in the U.S.
The United States has seen an increase in the number of international students over the years as most students look forward to completing their higher education in American universities. The high quality of education in the U.S. universities has been instrumental in attracting many international students. Currently, there are about 586,000 international students studying in the U.S. universities. This study examines their use of the social media and the effects that it has on their political knowledge. The research also investigates whether international students have interests in politics or not hence ensuring the entire contribution of social media to their political knowledge is understood.
It is worth noting that the uses and gratification theory was incorporated in this research to boost the understanding of the impact of social media on international students and the way they use the social media to gratify the understanding of political issues in their own countries and other parts of the world. In line with the gratification theory, the study aimed at understanding the most interesting topics they search on social media, the way they gratify their interests by using social media, the kind of people they follow, their comments, and the level of trust they have in the information they read from social media platforms.
Uses and Gratification Theory
Lasswell established the Uses and Gratification Theory in 1940. It is crucial to understand that the theory emanated from Lasswell’s functionalism in the 1940s, and it focuses on explaining the reasons why people seek specific media to satisfy their specific need. In this research, the aim is to understand how international students at Arkansas State University use the social media to gain political knowledge.
Froget, Baghestan, and Asfaranjan (2013) opine that unlike other mass communication theories that focus on what the media does to people, the uses and gratification theory aims at revealing what people are likely to do with the media that is presented to them. The theory embraces a positivist approach to the study of communications and the use of media among individuals. In line with its positivist approach, the theory affirms that people are not passive consumers of the information they gain from the media. They play an active role in controlling the information they derive from the media and the integration of media sources in their daily lives.
Therefore, the uses and gratification theory puts forward the view that individuals have the capacity to choose the kind of media to use in accessing the specific information they would like to know.
There also exists literature on the uses and gratification theory and the overall uses of social media for political knowledge among individuals. Clavio (2008) believes that individuals would always seek the relevant media to ensure that they gain an understanding of the specific needs. It is not easy for them to just go for any source of information. This is in tandem with the uses and gratification theory that highlights the view that individuals have control over the sources of information and media they would like to use. Richard, Froget, Baghestan, and Asfaranjan (2013) affirm that it would be difficult for other people to influence an individual’s decision relating to the type of media to use for information acquisition. Everyone would choose the source of media depending on the sense of trust in the information put forward.
The social media has formed a significant part of the mainstream media, and most individuals have been seen seeking information from these sources. The emergence of the Internet and its continued growth has been instrumental in boosting the usage of social media in accordance with the uses and gratification theory. Abdelraheem (2013) opines that the use of social networks has expanded significantly among university students hence boosting their knowledge base. Most of these students have been able to rely on the Internet for the information they need for their own development. Ezumah (2013) agrees that international students have had the chance to follow the happenings in their respective countries and other parts of the world through social media. This has ensured that they are satisfied at all times because of the updated information they research. The social media has been at the center of all these understandings among international students. It has presented an effective platform where individuals are able to share information that interests them and comment on the information written by other people. This boosts the growth of information and the passage of the intended message.
Therefore, the Internet has revolutionized the manner in which individuals have been able to access information and understand all the desired details. Opgenhaffen and d'Haenens (2011) reiterate that the Internet has changed the motivation of individuals in terms of seeking information that matters in their lives. Kenski and Stroud (2006) affirm that most people have found the Internet more reliable and convenient because they can access it using their mobile phones and computer sources. Again, the Internet tends to have a global coverage compared to other sources of information such as the radio and television that are mostly localized. Therefore, the convenience of the social media as the source of information has ensured that individuals continue relying on these sources to keep abreast with the existing issues.
Overall, the uses and gratification theory requires individuals to select specific media that they could use in accessing the information that they desire in their lives. Individuals must always have a sense of control in the information they would like to read on the Internet.
Interest in Political Knowledge among International Students
International students in the U.S. would always want to keep abreast with political issues in their home countries and other parts of the globe. However, this depends on their interests in politics and the political situation in their countries and the rest of the world. It is undeniable that political pressures in their countries might attract more attention among these students because of the fear for their relatives’ security. The nature of the political landscape would play a key role in attracting the interest of these students in gaining political knowledge.
The most significant element of this research was to identify the impact of the social media on the political knowledge of international students, especially those at the Arkansas State University. Social media has remained significant in enhancing political updates that boost political knowledge among international students.
New Media Use
The uses and the gratification theory is applied massively to the use of new media around the world. It is important to appreciate that the new media has transformed the world into a global village and has ensured that people around the globe share information in the best way possible. According to Rainie and Smith (2012), Social sites such as Facebook and Twitter have been instrumental in ensuring that people gain myriad pieces of information relating to their social, political, and economic interests.
The available social media platforms have evolved over the years and have given people the opportunity to access, and share information in the easiest manner possible. For instance, Twitter has presented the opportunity for individuals to follow key political figures and other people that they are able to learn from. They also post their information and retweets as they wish. Facebook has not been left behind as it has allowed people to share information continuously without any form of strain.
Twitter is one of the most significant and widely used social networks. Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone, Evan Williams, and Noah Glass were responsible for the creation of Twitter in 2006. The site had over 500 million users around the globe by 2012. It gives users the opportunity to send and read messages over the Internet. This facilitates the continued sharing of information among individuals around the globe. Therefore, registered users have personal accounts and are enabled to post pieces of information that interests them. Unregistered users could also read the information written by other people on Twitter.
Mike Zuckerberg created facebook in 2004 with the aim of easing communication among individuals. The project started at the Harvard University, and students were to access the site using their email addresses. It was opened to the world in 2006 hence boosting worldwide connectivity in the communication process. Saw, Abbott, Donaghey, and McDonald (2012) opine that Facebook gives individuals the opportunity to interact with people over the Internet by sending them friend requests or liking their pages. This offers a learning opportunity that plays an effective role in enhancing the gaining of the desired information among people. Therefore, international students would obviously have a better information platform with the presence of Facebook in their lives.
- RQ1: To what extent does the use of social media by international students enhance or curtail their political knowledge?
- RQ2: To what extent does the exposure of international students to political knowledge via social media influence their interests?
The research entailed the use of a sample of 10 international students out of a total population of 636 international students from 57 countries studying at the Arkansas State University. All of these participants were aged 18 years or older hence ensuring they deliver the required responses in the most appropriate manner. The randomly selected sample represented students across different genders, nationalities, year of study, and interests. In respect to nationalities, there were students from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Nigeria, Germany, and India. The wide selection of countries was instrumental in investigating the impact of social media on the political knowledge of students across different countries. In the sample, there were 2 senior male students from Egypt, 1 freshman female student from Kenya, 2 graduate female students from Germany, 1 male and 1 female senior students from Saudi Arabia, 1 graduate female student from Nigeria, and 2 senior students from India.
Data Collection Method
Semi-structured face-to-face interviews were the primary methods of data collection used in this research. These interviews lasted for an estimated time of 40 minutes for each of the participants in this research. Ethical standards of research were observed in the research process as each interviewee was allowed to sign consent of participation beforehand. The expected goals and objectives of this research were also disclosed to all the participants hence ensuring that they deliver information that matches the envisaged data required in the study. Recording was done for each of the interviews and the tapes were transcribed in the document files. The researcher has the responsibility of taking care of all the recorded tapes for confidentiality purposes. Additionally, the researcher would damage all the recorded tapes after the research to boost the level of confidentiality for participants in this research. According to Onwuegbuzie, Leech, and Collins (2012), this method is more reliable because it enhances the authenticity of the information presented by respondents. However, it entails the wastage of more time on each respondent in the study. This would be instrumental in ensuring the observation of research ethics as stated earlier in the research. The interviews lasted from January 20 to February 3, 2014.
The coding method was used in the analysis of the data that had been collected from the above participants. The collected information was segmented effectively to ensure that it delivered maximum output according to what had been envisaged in the research. Each segment of the data was labeled with a code to ensure that appropriate identification was made easier for the understanding of the information. This was based on gender, year of study, interests, and nationality to distinguish the different views posed by international students in respect to the impact of social media on their political knowledge. More so, a summary of these codes was written hence revealing the responses given by each of the respondents in this study. As stated in the article “Semi-structured interviews” (2008), coding was preferred because of its simplicity in understanding the collected data and presenting it in the simplest manner possible.
Results and Discussion
Most interviewees, apart from one female senior student from Saudi Arabia, admitted that social media plays an instrumental role in enhancing their knowledge in political matters in their countries and other parts of the globe. She stated that she has never been interested in political issues because of their discriminatory nature in her own country. Therefore, she does not use social media to search political matters hence it does not add to her knowledge of politics. All other participants were appreciative of the role that social media especially Facebook and Twitter have played in the enhancement of their political knowledge. The political knowledge is mainly informed by the pages they like on Facebook and the people they follow on Twitter. They strongly believe that the emergence of social media has played an instrumental role in boosting their political knowledge. This is supported by the fact that they can access such sites easily using smartphones at any given time. This informs them of the political happenings in their own countries and other countries around the globe hence advancing their political knowledge.
Additionally, most of the participants admitted that they rarely use other sources of information apart from the social media. They read most of the information from the social media hence ensuring they gain wide knowledge on different political issues happening around their world and their respective countries. This means that social media has affected their political knowledge massively even as they stay in the U.S. The social media has offered an effective platform where they share and read information about their respective countries. For instance, Egyptian students reiterated that they rely on social media, especially Twitter, to follow the political situation in their country. They read about all the political happenings in Egypt via Twitter hence understanding the real situation on the ground. Again, they communicate with their parents, other relatives, and friends to get the true picture of the political situation. This advances their political knowledge, and they get the opportunity to comment on such posts appropriately.
The realistic nature of social media plays a central role in its duty of promoting political knowledge among these international students. Most of them noted that social media such as Facebook offers one the chance to share and view pictures and videos of different happenings. This extends the effect of social media on their political knowledge. They would want to search information from the social media because it is more realistic and current in its form. Most of them prefer using social media because they are fast in the delivery of the desired information. Therefore, the presence of social media had played a contributory role in enhancing political knowledge among most international students at the Arkansas State University.
They gratify their interests and motivations of using social media by searching for the most interesting current topic. Most respondents were clear that they are interested in all matters including political issues because they affect some part of their lives even as they live in the U.S. They are always interested in understanding the political situation in their respective countries because this also helps assure them of the safety of their relatives and friends in their countries. Their motivation to search political matters and follow political figures on Twitter is always pushed by issues at stake such as peace in their countries. Others would like to join the political world once they get back to their countries at the end of their course.
RQ1: To What Extent Does the Use of Social Media by International Students Enhance or Curtail Their Political Knowledge?
Responses from most interviewees indicated that the use of social media was instrumental in enhancing their political knowledge. All the responds apart from one agreed that social media was effective in enhancing their knowledge in political matters. They rely on social media everyday to learn about the changing political situations in their countries and other parts of the globe. One male student from Egypt asserted, “I specifically use social media to read about the political situation in Egypt, this is important to me.” This is indicative of his increasing knowledge in political matters relating to his country.
However, the role of social media in enhancing political knowledge among some international students has been decreasing since they joined the university. One female student from Germany noted that she does not use social media to read about politics in most situations. She stated that she dedicates most of her time to her studies and would only turn to social media in cases when she wants to communicate with her family. However, she also finds some time to search political topics on Facebook and Twitter hence gaining political knowledge.
A female student from Saudi Arabia asserted that social media does not enhance her political knowledge because of the discriminatory nature of politics in her country. She said, “I do not use social media to read about politics, maybe I could watch it on CNN.” This indicates that social media does not necessary boost her understanding of politics. She believes that information from social media would not help her gain political knowledge because she does not follow it closely. More so, she does not follow most of the pages relating to political matters in her own country or other parts of the globe.
Both Indian students agreed that social media has advanced their knowledge in politics over the years, and they continue to rely on it in their daily lives to have a deeper understanding. For instance, it has helped them understand the voting trends in India and other parts of the globe hence keeping them with the current affairs.
Overall, social media use tends to enhance political knowledge among these students because of their belief that politics is part of their lives and affects them even as they live far away from their countries.
RQ 2: To What Extent Does the Exposure to Political Knowledge among International Students via Social Media Influence Their Interests?
It is obvious that the exposure of international students to political knowledge via social media influences their interests widely. Only a few of them admitted that they had an interest in political matters in their countries and other parts of the globe. The female student from Kenya emphasized that she is not interested in political matters, but she is always forced to have a look at some of the political news taking place around the world and back in her country. She asserted, “I am not wholly interested in politics, but I get some time to learn political happenings via social media.” This does not necessarily affect her other interests such as modelling that she keeps searching on the social media.
The female student from Saudi Arabia was also firm on her view that she has never been interested in gaining political knowledge. She emphasized that she does not like politics because of its apparent dirty nature. Therefore, this does not also affect her other interests because she rarely visits social sites to read about politics.
Other respondents, especially the female student from Nigeria, noted that they have a massive interest in gaining political knowledge. She has little interest in other matters on social media, and she tends to concentrate on political matters in most of her searches. This means that the exposure to political knowledge via social media does not have an effect on their other interests. That student reiterated that she wants to keep understanding the changing political landscape in Nigeria and all other parts of the globe. Without this knowledge, she would not be able to fulfill her ambitions of becoming a politician once she goes back to Nigeria.
Conclusion and Future Research
The results of this study indicate the impact of social media on the political knowledge of international students. The focus was mainly placed on international students at the Arkansas State University. Most of them admitted that social media enhances their knowledge in political matters. On the other hand, they also stated that they have other interests, but they get time to access social media to gain political knowledge.
This study is important because it facilitates the understanding of the uses and gratifications of social media for political knowledge among international students. It highlights the use of social media among students of different genders, years of study, nationalities, and interests.
Additionally, the study is important because it embraces a unique form of research that has not been conducted before. It appreciates the fact that most international students tend to rely on social media for their political knowledge. Facebook and Twitter remain the most significant social media platforms that enable these students gain political knowledge.
The most significant limitation of this research was limited time for collecting more information from a larger sample. There was little time for the research hence limiting the information collected. The availability of more time would have ensured that we collect wider views hence more reliable results.
Future research could focus on other variables that have impact on international students’ knowledge of politics. It could focus on the impact brought by print media among international students.