General Online Research 2019
C07: Citizens on Social Media
Political Fandoms as Networks on Twitter: Language-Blind Analysis of Polarized Communication
Institute for Web Science and Technologies, Universität Koblenz-Landau
Relevance & Research Question:
Personality-centered politics is a phenomenon in young and old democracies wherever populism and inequality are on the rise. At the same time, digital environments amplify the expression of affective and emotional identification for and against political persons, events, and positions. As result, political fandom—which incorporates anti-fandom—arises online. Using Twitter data, this paper examines whether communication clusters are shaped by ideology or affect, which combines fandom with anti-fandom.
Methods & Data:
The dataset holds tweets in Korean, Japanese, and German. The first step identifies tweet semantics of fandom behavior in non-political subjects and extracts the underlying networks. The second step tests these networks on tweets that regard political subjects. Validation is conducted by comparisons to alternative indices for political and social polarization. Furthermore, the network of Twitter users is examined as well by means of pure network analysis tools, leading to uncover structural changes which, regardless of the language involved, spur a different organization in correspondence with major political events. Human intervention is kept to a minimum, allowing very large datasets, and/or datasets featuring unsupported languages, to be efficiently and quickly processed.
Results show distinct behaviors of fandom: It defends the political idol and simultaneously attacks its projected adversary, regardless of issue. While online fandom cannot represent the offline population, fandom utilizes offline topics for formulating absolute support as well as contention. Online political fandom results from the increase of affective polarization via online media and reveals partisan affect that hates compromise and exchange.
Implications shed light on the fundamental limits of democratic deliberation online, propose a new framework for a global phenomenon that decouples from ideological explanations for political cleavages, and demonstrate a method that can be scaled up across languages and country-specific contexts.
Straight Into the Echo Chamber? How Others' Political Stance Influences Tie Formation in Social Media
1Universität Duisburg-Essen, Germany; 2Universität Koblenz-Landau, Germany
Relevance & Research Question: Political social media use has become topic to a growing amount of scholarship, inter alia, addressing the role of user behavior in the formation of politically homogeneous environments, so-called echo chambers. Building on the concept of selective exposure, we introduce the notion of selective political friending, i.e., the preference for politically like-minded users in tie formation on social networking sites (SNS). Opinion congruence is contrasted to other criteria of friending, i.e. other users' popularity/supportiveness and career utility and it is analyzed to what extent dispositional variables (i.e., opinion strength, need for cognitive closure, desire for shared reality) influence selective political friending.
Methods & Data: Within a pre-registered laboratory experiment using cover story methodology (N = 199; 40,7 % female; Age: M = 29.48, SD = 11.83 min = 18; max = 75 years), participants were introduced to an ostensible social networking site on which they were asked to select profiles of other users to which they would like to connect (send friendship requests). These profiles contained information on a user's political opinion, popularity and career and were manipulated as within-subject factors. Number of friendship requests sent served as dependent measure.
Results: We found that users preferably build ties with others who hold the same opinion toward controversial political issues. This preference exceeds users' preference for ties that might provide social support or career-related benefits and is particularly pronounced when pre-existing opinions are strong and for morally loaded issues (i.e., refugee family reunification).
Added Value: The present study unravels motivational patterns in the process of tie building on SNS and points to the necessity of taking the motivational complexity into account when studying phenomena linked to echo chambers. Extending selective exposure research, this work reveals that opinion-based selectivity can also occur when it comes to build digital relationships which, in the long run, lead to selecting content that is displayed in one's newsfeed. If others' political opinions are salient or visible, this selective exposure could lead to the formation of echo chambers.