If a politician was cited for say, speeding, what are the chances she or he would share the news via Twitter or Facebook?

Parked along highway, while officer writes ticket. All a terrible misunderstanding. Please don’t mention to local newspapers. Thks.

Well, no. Politicians, like the rest of us, are not programmed to disclose situations that cause controversy or embarrassment.

If you follow your hometown politicians on Facebook, you know they use social media to share information and opinions, provide updates on public events, engage in self-promotion and, now and again, show their warm and fuzzy selves.

Supervisor and state Senate candidate Mike McGuire last week used his Facebook page to promote events in Healdsburg, Rohnert Park and Eureka, re-broadcast earthquake alerts, show photos of beautiful landscapes (that happen to be in the Senate district he hopes to represent) and even file a backyard crop report.

Above a photograph of an apple, McGuire wrote: “Bumper crop of apples — for the first time — off of our tree we planted last year! Dang excited!”

McGuire, among the first and most enthusiastic adopters of social media, understands its value as a means for telling his story. More than 7,700 people have liked his candidate’s page, which proclaims: “Next Gen votes. It’s your future. Own it.”

Congressman Jared Huffman also understands. Huffman last week took his Facebook followers on a marijuana bust in Trinity County, thanked the people who attended a Petaluma meeting on plans to close a mail processing plant, praised the latest court decision involving salmon protection and Klamath River flows, and even displayed a photograph of himself and the salmon he caught.

For politicians, this becomes a powerful tool. Twenty years ago, a newsletter sent in the mail served as the primary method of communicating with friends and supporters.

Today, politicians can communicate as often as they like, and it happens instantaneously. In these circumstances, they are left to worry they are sharing too much.

For people who follow their favorite politicians, these updates can be entertaining and useful. They often provide valuable information.

But do they make us better citizens?

A survey published last week by the Pew Research Center and Rutgers University says the answer is: Maybe not.

The study focused on an issue that has sharply divided Americans — revelations of widespread government surveillance of phone calls and emails. Researchers set out to find whether the availability of social media made people more or less likely to discuss these issues.

What they found was that people who use social media are less likely to discuss controversial issues in public settings, and they are also less likely to discuss them online if they think others don’t share their views.

“People who use social media are finding new ways to engage politically, but there’s a big difference between political participation and deliberation,” a Rutgers professor told the New York Times. “People are less likely to express opinions and to be exposed to the other side, and that’s exposure we’d like to see in a democracy.”

Last week, social media was credited with reporting events in the aftermath of a police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, but Times tech writer Nick Bilton found less encouraging news while monitoring Twitter feeds from the scene.

Bilton acknowledged the role Twitter played in “ensuring that the events in Ferguson led to an international debate about police violence and race in America. But it was also responsible for creating and perpetuating numerous falsehoods. What’s worse, Twitter users sought out and shared accounts that aligned with their viewpoint, with little regard to whether they were true.”

By now, it’s not news that politics in this country is polarized. Congress is ossified. Californians and Mississippians live in different realities. People don’t log on (or tune in) to MSNBC or Fox News to learn what happened today. They go there to find validation for their views of how the world should be. Meanwhile, as the Times noted, online companies design their algorithms to connect us to people who think just like we do.

When the Internet arrived, we expected so much — an abundance of information, thoughtful conversations, the democratization of news.

Instead we got torrents of information — some accurate, some not — that is often more than we can manage, and in the place of thoughtful conversation, we were treated to the fulminations of people determined to outshout the rest of us.

It’s all very new. Perhaps in time, we’ll figure out how to make these online conversations more inclusive and civil. Perhaps a politician’s Facebook page will not just serve as a meeting place for friends but a venue for people who want to work through their differences.

A few years ago, I heard a speaker at a Sacramento forum express concern that Americans were losing their “civic literacy,” meaning their ability to understand that democracy survives only when people accept the necessity of compromising their differences.

We hoped new opportunities to communicate would increase our civic literacy. To date, they have only made it easier to retreat into silos where we are granted license to distort reality and pretend we don’t have to get along with others.

Since the Internet isn’t going away, we need to get smarter about this. Now would be a good time to start.

Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at golispd@gmail.com.