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Selective Avoidance on Social Media: A Comparative Study of Western Democracies

Thu, August 30, 8:00 to 9:30am, Hynes, 105


Social media has been blamed for contributing to the increasing level of political polarization across Western democracies. Among other factors, politically motivated unfriending and filtering have been identified as likely contributors to the rising ideological segregation. This study examines the phenomena of political unfriending and content removal on social media in the context of three Western democracies – France, the United Kingdom and the United States. We seek to understand the role of cross-cutting discussion, ideological extremity, confrontational discussion style, and electoral participation in triggering unfriending and content removal on social media, while shedding more light on potential cross-country differences. The findings show that selective avoidance behaviors are much more common in the United States than either in France or the United Kingdom. They also show that cross-cutting discussion and confrontational style are predictors of selective avoidance across all the above countries, while ideological extremity and electoral participation played a role in the United States only. We suggest that while social media provide opportunities for citizens to engage in discussions with people with dissimilar political views and socio-economic backgrounds, they also allow them to easily re-establish more homophilous environments via content removal and tie dissolution.