Many participants believed that once the user perceives someone close to them sharing a piece of news that clashes with their own opinion, motivation to click on the news increases. In situations where people acquire contacts from different life situations, it is common to form a large circle of acquaintances. In fact social media platforms have for years now focused on solving privacy management issues resulting from a large circle of friends.
Focusing on relatively open discussion forums, such as Twitter and Facebook, may however be an outdated approach. According to Nelimarkka, the research also pointed out that political experts in particular have often moved to discuss politics in more closed groups, such as WhatsApp. 'This is even worse for polarization. Many interviewees raised this subject, and it still hasn’t been widely covered in literature.'
A weak understanding of other fields may result in several problems
A research review by Nelimarkka was also published at CSCW. The review centers on how democratic decision-making is presented at human-computer interaction (HCI) conferences and how political science and HCI researchers could move toward an improved trading zone.
A poorly functioning collaboration leads to a range of issues. Nelimarkka highlights a study on customer satisfaction measured by smiley face push buttons as an example. These types of research articles, according to Nelimarkka, always begin the same way: Researchers want to support democracy that is based on voting, so they situate buttons in people’s everyday surroundings. With these buttons, people would easily provide feedback and get it across.
'None of the papers return to address whether this wish is actually ever carried out,' Nelimarkka says. 'They do report on how many times the buttons have been pushed and how they have been used. Yet research on political participation has taught us that people’s actions are distorted. I push those buttons several times, as many times as it takes to get my opinion across better! But someone maybe doesn’t dare do this.'
It is probable, then, that not everyone’s position is displayed equally in votes, but if the central problems related to participation in political processes are unfamiliar to researchers, this is a viewpoint that is easily overlooked in analyses. Nelimarkka describes the worst-case scenario, where a lack of collaboration and a weak understanding of another field may lead to researchers in one field developing something that has long ago been introduced in another field and proven to not work.
Collaboration leads to higher-quality research
Based on Nelimarkka’s review, researchers of both HCI and social sciences still have much to learn from each other. However, collaboration needs to take place under conditions set by both disciplines. Nelimarkka believes that it is necessary to create shared information sharing points, which researchers of politics can use to familiarize themselves with central HCI concepts and methods, and vice versa.
Better collaboration would lead to research that is better conceptualized and detailed in both fields. 'The question is: how do we educate people in a way that enables them to do this? Pursuing several master’s degrees is not the answer.'
Nelimarkka himself has a multidisciplinary background. He completed his bachelor and master’s degrees at the Faculty of Social Sciences but pursued doctoral studies on human-computer interaction. The reason behind the 'crossover to another field' was the fact that technology was poorly considered at the Faculty of Social Sciences at that time. 'Towards the end of my doctoral thesis, I began working on his literature review and realized I’d come up with everything I want to do: combine these two areas.'
Now Nelimarkka is a visiting researcher at Aalto’s Department of Computer Science. Since technology is present everywhere these days, he points out, HCI can be used to study practically anything. City bikes, for example, are a part of HCI, as they collect data on people. They can be researched as not only information technology but also as a sociological or political phenomenon.
'For me, that’s quite a few opportunities missed when researchers in other fields fail to utilize things that have been discovered on the HCI side long ago. On the other hand, HCI researchers sometimes ignore the niche understanding of other fields.'
Links to the publications:
(Re)Design to Mitigate Political Polarization – Reflecting Habermas’ ideal communication space in the United States of America and Finland
A Review of Research on Participation in Democratic Decision-Making Presented at SGCHI Conferences
English translation by Annika Rautakoura