Thursday, February 23, 2012

America's Biggest Social Issue - Social Media - Facing the Facebook Psychology


When is a Social Issue a Social Issue?  When the media says so!

I've always been intrigued by the public perception of social issues.  What makes something a social issue in your eyes?  Why does a social issue become political?  Is it possible to ever solve a social Issue?

There are many social issues in America covering the entire spectrum of possibilities.  They range from child and female abuse to abortion, legalizing marijuana to poverty, gun control to contraceptives.

It is not often they come to the forefront of political campaigns but this year seems to be an exception.  The Republican primary and President Obama's White House have both raised social issues when they saw a political opportunity to exploit them, and that is rather common in politics.

How can social issues push the recession and economic recovery off the font pages?  Why are social issues dominating our national debate?  What makes health care reform more important than foreign aid or defense spending?

I believe it is the proliferation of social media like Facebook that drives the debate over social issues.  With social media everyone in American can comment on just about anything.  We no longer need to know what we are talking about or even back up what with say with facts.

Truth has been destroyed by unethical and predatory practices of the Internet masters who create all kinds of vehicles for expression but care less about the accuracy or validity of what is discussed.  These avenues of expression, free expression if you really want to buy the bull, are nothing more than ways to increase the ability of Internet service companies to bill clients for clicks.  I believe the driving force behind Internet use is greed, not good, profits, not progress and hits, clicks and cash.

Math & Methodology

But first of all let me qualify my interest.  Back during the Great Society days of President Lyndon Johnson I did some work for the US Census and the US Department of Labor.  Both dealt with statistical analysis and methodology.  Sound boring?  It wasn't.

At DOL I worked with the Bureau of Labor Statistics to develop a methodology for identifying high pockets of unemployment within urban areas.  We found an acceptable solution and the problem was solved.  At the time in the late 1960's this was a big social issue.

At the Census Bureau I was involved in computerizing the Address Coding Guide for Americans which collected the information needed on a national basis that could be converted to block by block data.  The ability to instantly sort data for 250 million people all the way down to a block by block level changed forever the way problems like poverty, unemployment, health and education were identified.

Political Polling

Later I worked in 32 political campaigns at the local (mayor and city council), state (both governors and state senators), and federal (presidential, senate and house races).  Working with all three levels of government gave me the opportunity to understand the inter-relationship and inter-dependence of each level from the executive branch, legislative branch and judiciary which exist at every level.

Beyond that, involvement in the campaign allowed me to play with more statistics as I then had access to polling information.  Once I got into the development of newer and more accurate ways to measure for political purposes I was in heaven.

It was amazing to measure how people reacted to polls, how to make the polls totally objective and representative of the diversity of the public, and how to interpret the results.  A real pollster does not try and confirm anything, but measures the true thoughts of the voter.

Over the decades social issues were almost always an integral element of the polling activity and measuring the true public feeling for an issue could help win elections, especially in limited geographic areas like Congressional Districts.

Through this experience it was always the intent of the polling to maintain absolute integrity over the results.  In other words, the intent of the poll was never to influence people but to understand people.

Focus groups, a key element of comprehensive polling and analysis, became a world of fascinating human reactions and emotions and led us into human response monitoring, an electrical monitoring method of verifying emotional response to any issue, word, phrase, image or color.

I offer this overview to show I've been aware and involved in polling and measuring public response to public issues, often social issues, for over four decades.

Becoming a Social Issue

I believe the point a concern becomes a "social issue" as defined by the media and political parties, is when there is sufficient public interest in any issue to create a reservoir of support for and against the issue.  In other words, when the interest becomes a "special" interest to those for and against something, you have a "social issue".

We searched for a "radical fringe", both for and against an issue, and when it was discovered suddenly the issue could cause polarization.  It was a science to predict the impact on the voting public of a politician taking a side for or against that issue.  There was much research exhausted to find this formula.

In the end you really couldn't, there were simply too many valid variables.  Many consultants tried to capitalize on their version of the truth but trying to manage reaction to social issues is a political time bomb and fraught with dangerous consequences.  There were always exceptions to a rule.

Ronald Reagan could take almost any side of any issue and people still supported him because they trusted him to look out for our overall good.  Reagan never wavered on his patriotism and never wavered on doing what was best for all Americans, not just those who agreed with him.  Few politicians have the trust of people, especially those from all political parties and independents.

Measuring the Importance of Social Issues

This changes from neighborhood to neighborhood, even block to block in some areas.  A strong local church can generate interest in issues that might otherwise never see the light of day.  Urban areas differ from suburbs, cities from farming areas.

In the end there are always two key considerations.  First, the person you represent, the politician you are trying to get or keep elected, better have a clear standing on the issue in the minds of the voters.  And second, if you open Pandora's Box by introducing the social issue to a campaign, you better make sure your opponent thinks the opposite so a clear distinction can be drawn.

Can the social issue ever be solved?

If the wounds of polarization and the emotional pain associated with it are an indication of the consequence of failing to resolve the issue then we better make it a priority.  We were put here to help and serve, not hate and kill.  There can be no higher purpose for mankind.

So we must get beyond the social issues that inspire anger and hatred.  In truth, many social issues have their grounding in religious belief and teachings.  Yet most social issues involve judgment, a function most religions agree is left to God in whatever form you recognize the Deity.

Government cannot legislate God's Law nor take God's place.  Free will, a gift to us from God in most religions, gives us a choice and makes judgment between God and us, not big government and us.  Freedom of religion must be protected, but religion cannot be legislated.

According to the King James Bible, Cambridge Edition, in Mark 12:17, "And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. And they marveled at him."

Well judging spiritual morality is God's work, not ours.

We must make the laws of man clear, concise and unmistakable in their intent.  But we must not usurp the laws of God.

Social issues, a liberal term for matters of religion, are compromised when they are codified into man's law.  When we try to legislate gay marriage, contraception, abortion and similar issues under our law there is conflict, disagreement and polarization.  There is the conflict between socialism which wants to controls religion and democracy which respects individual rights and freedom.

Man's law can accommodate both sides of most issues if used to achieve fairness and freedom for all.

For example, civil marriage need not specify sex, leave that to the participants.  But marriage in the church, any church, should conform to the dogma of that church.  If you don't agree with the civil law get married in the church where a marriage between man and woman can be required.

Contraception is similar.  The government can make it available but it cannot make it mandatory for those religions that oppose it.  Much is said about the Roman Catholic stand on contraception.  The church is opposed.  Yet many Catholics in America support the use in spite of the efforts of the Bishops to encourage church dogma.

In the end, that is a matter between the individual Catholic and God come Judgment Day.  The individual has the right to use free will and can decide either way.  If they are wrong on their decision, a just God will let them know and pass judgment.

What is the truth about contraceptive use in America?

Here is a recent report by the Guttmacher Institute that attempts to document contraceptive use.

Facts on Contraceptive Use in the United States

June 2010


• There are 62 million U.S. women in their childbearing years (15–44).
 • Seven in 10 women of reproductive age (43 million women) are sexually active and do not want to become pregnant, but could become pregnant if they and their partners fail to use a contraceptive method.

• The typical U.S. woman wants only two children. To achieve this goal, she must use contraceptives for roughly three decades.


• Virtually all women (more than 99%) aged 15–44 who have ever had sexual intercourse have used at least one contraceptive method.

• Overall, 62% of the 62 million women aged 15–44 are currently using a method.

• Almost one-third (31%) of these 62 million women do not need a method because they are infertile; are pregnant, postpartum or trying to become pregnant; have never had intercourse; or are not sexually active.

• Thus, only 7% of women aged 15–44 are at risk for unintended pregnancy but are not using contraceptives.

• Among the 43 million fertile, sexually active women who do not want to become pregnant, 89% are practicing contraception.


• Sixty-three percent of reproductive-age women who practice contraception use nonpermanent methods, including hormonal methods (such as the pill, patch, implant, injectable and vaginal ring), the IUD and condoms. The remaining women rely on female or male sterilization.

• Contraceptive choices vary markedly with age. For women younger than 30, the pill is the leading method. Among women aged 30 and older, more rely on sterilization.

• The pill and female sterilization have been the two leading contraceptive methods in the United States since 1982. However, sterilization is the most common method among black and Hispanic women, while white women mostly commonly choose the pill.

• Female sterilization is most commonly relied on by women who are aged 35 or older, women who are currently or have previously been married, women with two or more children, women below 150% of the federal poverty level and women with less than a college education.

• Half of all women aged 40–44 who practice contraception have been sterilized, and another 20% have a partner who has had a vasectomy.

• The pill is the method most widely used by women who are in their teens and 20s, women who are cohabiting, women with no children and women with at least a college degree.

• Some 6.2 million women rely on the male condom. Condom use is especially common among teens and women in their 20s, women with one or no children and women with at least a college education.

• Dual methods (most often the condom combined with another method) are used by 13.5% of contraceptive users. The proportions using more than one method are greatest among teenagers and never-married women.


• Teenagers (aged 15–19) who do not use a contraceptive at first sex are twice as likely to become teen mothers as are teenagers who use a method.

• Twenty-three percent of teenage women using contraceptives choose condoms as their primary method. Condom use is higher among women aged 20–24 and is lower among older and married women.

• Of the 2.9 million teenage women who use contraceptives, 54%—more than 1.5 million women—rely on the pill.


• The proportion of women aged 15–44 currently using a contraceptive method increased from 56% in 1982 to 64% in 1995, and then declined slightly to 62% in 2002 and 2006–2008.

• Among all women, 7% were at risk of unwanted pregnancy but not using a method in 2006–2008, an increase from 5% in 1995.

• Among just those women who are sexually active and able to become pregnant but do not want to become pregnant, 11% are not using contraceptives. That number is much higher among teens aged 15–19 (19%) and lower among older women aged 40–44 (8%).

• The proportion of women using contraceptives who rely on condoms decreased between 1995 and 2006–2008 from 20% to 16%. However, use was still higher in 2006–2008 than it was in 1988.

• Between 1995 and 2002, the share of users relying on the pill increased slightly, from 27% to 31%, but it declined slightly, to 28%, in 2006–2008.

• In 2006–2008, 27% of contraceptive users relied on female sterilization, compared with 23% in 1982.[funded family planning clinic.

• The proportion of all users relying on the IUD has increased substantially, from less than 1% in 1995, to 2% in 2002, to 5.5% in 2006–2008.

Data Sources

  • The information in this fact sheet is the most current available. All of the data are from research conducted by the Guttmacher Institute and the National Center for Health Statistics or from Contraceptive Technology.
  • U.S. Bureau of the Census, Table 2: annual estimates of the resident population by sex and selected age groups for the United States: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2008, no date, , accessed May 25, 2010.
  • Mosher WD and Jones J, Use of contraception in the United States: 1982–2008, Vital and Health Statistics, 2010, Series 23, No. 29.
  • The Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI), Fulfilling the Promise: Public Policy and U.S. Family Planning Clinics, New York: AGI, 2000.
  • Piccinino LJ and Mosher WD, Trends in contraceptive use in the United States: 1982–1995, Family Planning Perspectives, 1998, 30(1):4–10 & 46.
  • Frost JJ, Trends in US women’s use of sexual and reproductive health care services, 1995–2002, American Journal of Public Health, 2008, 98(10):1814–1817.
  • Dailard C, Contraceptive coverage: a 10-year retrospective, Guttmacher Report on Public Policy, 2004, 7(2):6–9.
  • Sonfield A et al., U.S. insurance coverage of contraceptives and the impact of contraceptive coverage mandates, 2002, Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 2004, 36(2):72–79.
  • Guttmacher Institute, Insurance coverage contraceptives, State Policies In Brief (as of May 2010), 2010, , accessed May 25, 2010.
Go to Guttmacher Institute website for more information.


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