Daniel Röchert, German Neubaum, Björn Ross, Florian Brachten, & Stefan Stieglitz (2019): Are social media users discussing political issues only with those who think alike?
When addressing public concerns such as the existence of politically like-minded communication spaces in social media, analyses of complex political discourses are met with increasing methodological challenges to process communication data properly. To address the extent of political like-mindedness in online communication, we argue that it is necessary to focus not only on ideological homogeneity in online environments, but also on the extent to which specific political questions are discussed in a uniform manner. This study proposes an innovative combination of computational methods, including natural language processing and social network analysis, that serves as a model for future research examining the evolution of opinion climates in online networks. Data were gathered on YouTube, enabling the assessment of users’ expressed opinions on three political issues (i.e., adoption rights for same-sex couples, headscarf rights, and climate change). Challenging widely held assumptions on discursive homogeneity online, the results provide evidence for a moderate level of connections between dissimilar YouTube comments but few connections between agreeing comments. The findings are discussed in light of current computational communication research and the vigorous debate on the prevalence of like-mindedness in online networks.
German Neubaum & Nicole Krämer (2018): What keeps us from expressing minority opinions in online environments?
This work proposes the expectation of sanctions as a promising construct to advance spiral of silence research in face-to-face and computer-mediated contexts. We argue that situational factors influence people’s expectations about how their social environment would punish them should they express their viewpoint in a hostile opinion climate. These expected sanctions are suggested to explain the variance in people’s willingness to express a minority opinion across different social situations. An experiment showed that the expectation of being personally attacked can explain why people are more willing to voice a deviant opinion in offline rather than online environments. Findings also revealed that in contemporary social networking websites, wherein users commonly face a personally relevant audience, people are prone to hold back their opinion as they expect losing control over the reactions of their audience. This research extends previous knowledge by presenting a more differentiated theoretical view of the fear of isolation and specifying its role in different situations of public deliberation.
German Neubaum & Nicole Krämer (2017): Do we use social media to observe political opinion trends?
Social media technologies offer several features that allow users to monitor other people’s opinions on public issues. Initial research showed that user-generated content can shape recipients’ perceptions of the majority opinion on societal problems. Still, it remains largely unexplored under which circumstances people gauge other users’ opinions through social media and whether perceived opinion climates affect people’s opinions and communication behavior in these environments. Results of a two-session experiment revealed that people’s fear of isolation sharpens their attention toward user-generated comments on Facebook which, in turn, affect recipients’ public opinion perceptions. The latter influenced subjects’ opinions and their willingness to participate in social media discussions. These findings are discussed in light of the spiral of silence theory and the social projection hypothesis.
German Neubaum & Nicole Krämer (2017): How do social media change the formation of public opinion?
Social media's capacity for users to generate, comment on, and forward content (including mass media messages) to other users has created new forms of mass interpersonal communication. These systems render observable processes underlying the formation of opinion climates. Five attributes of contemporary electronic opinion environments can alter the way users gauge, form, and express opinions on topics of public interest: the juxtaposition of mass media and user-generated content, ideological homogeneity and heterogeneity of online networks, technical ease with which to express opinions, the reach of messages, and networked audiences. These attributes facilitate analysis of theoretical and empirical works from different scholarly traditions, suggesting lines of inquiry that can enrich the analysis of (public) opinion formation via current communication technologies.