Manuel Cargnino (2021) (How) are populist attitudes and the belief in conspiracies related to the perception of political network homogeneity?
In a correlative study, Manuel Cargnino addressed the question of whether Facebook users who have populist attitudes (who, e.g., believe that there is a “people” whose sovereignty is withheld by established institutions) and tend to believe in conspiracies (who, e.g., consider likely that there is an uncontrolled immigration to Germany, which serves the purpose of “abolishing” the German people) tend to expose themselves to content that is congruent with their attitudes. A central clue to this assumption is the observation that both populist attitudes and belief in conspiracy theories are related to a simplistic view on the dualistic division of people into “good” and “bad.” Contrary to expectations, results revealed that populist attitudes are related to (the perception) of greater political heterogeneity in one's own network and that the belief in conspiracies is unrelated to perceived network homogeneity.
The study "The Interplay of Online Network Homogeneity, Populist Attitudes, and Conspiratorial Beliefs: Empirical Evidence From a Survey on German Facebook Users" (Author: Manuel Cargnino) was published in the "International Journal of Public Opinion Research" and can be found there or free of charge as a pre-print at SocArXiv.
German Neubaum, Manuel Cargnino & Jeanette Maleszka (2021) How do we reconcile political disagreements with members of our online network?
In our study "How Facebook Users Experience Political Disagreements and Make Decisions About the Political Homogenization of Their Online Network," we investigated the variety of (internal and external) responses people can show when they encounter political disagreements with someone from their online network. A potential response can be dissolving the digital relationship (e.g., "unfriending"). We analyzed the complex psychological processes at work before social media users make the drastic decision to break their network ties.
The article published in the International Journal of Communication is freely available here.
Manuel Cargnino & German Neubaum (2020) Do we select our social media contacts based on their political convictions? How does this affect our social networks?
A number of studies has already addressed the question whether social media undermine political diversity and expose users to predominantly consonant information (echo chamber thesis). However, it was still unclear to what extent this potential network homogenization might be based on users’ deliberate choice to connect with politically like-minded individuals. Furthermore, the role of certain user characteristics was unclear in this regard. In order to address these questions, in a pre-registered survey, subjects were asked on their motives for tie building (“befriending”) on Facebook and the political homogeneity of their Facebook network. The main finding is that, overall, political similarities with others do not seem very important selection criteria, but that there are certain groups of users who are more inclined to build ties with like-minded people (e.g., those who identify with an ideological group). In addition, evidence was found that some users homogenize their network through political tie building – however, only to a small extent.
The study “Are we deliberately captivated in homogeneous cocoons? An investigation on political tie building on Facebook” (authors: Manuel Cargnino & German Neubaum) has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed journal “Mass Communication and Society.” Further details on the publication and results can be found here.
Daniel Röchert, Muriel Weitzel, Björn Ross (2020) How homogeneous are the YouTube recommendations when it comes to right-wing populist and politically neutral videos?
According to the filter bubble assumption, personalized algorithms are used on platforms like YouTube to recommend new videos to users that match their previous search history and their opinions and values. This would lead to a politically homogeneous, i.e. uniform, video landscape. But how good are these algorithms really? How politically homogeneous are the automated video recommendations?
With this study, we examined the YouTube recommendation network on right-wing populist and politically neutral videos to identify the homogeneity of video recommendations. Our results show that 54% of users who watch right-wing populist videos are likely to be suggested right-wing populist videos. If they follow these recommendations, however, the probability that they will also be recommended right-wing populist videos in the following round drops to 37%. If users watch politically neutral videos, there is a low probability (2%) that they will receive recommendations for right-wing populist videos.
More about our method and the findings can be read in the article "The homogeneity of right-wing populist and radical content in YouTube recommendations" (authors: Daniel Röchert, Muriel Weitzel, Björn Ross), which was accepted for publication in the proceedings of the Social Media & Society conference.
Daniel Röchert, German Neubaum, Björn Ross, Florian Brachten, Stefan Stieglitz (2020) 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.
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.
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.
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.