Abstract: The Effect of Facebook on Political Attitudes

There are a variety of ways in which Facebook users can and often do express political opinions for all their online connections to see. This research is part of a continued investigation into the politically relevant effects these posts have on the individuals viewing them. Does viewing political content on Facebook increase individual partisan polarization? If so, is this effect moderated by individual characteristics, such as political knowledge and partisanship? Do different types of content have different substantive impacts? I plan to analyze these questions using data collected during the Fall 2016 Omnibus project. In that study, the student participants each uploaded three screenshots from their own Facebook accounts. In the political treatment group, participants were instructed to upload screenshots of posts about the election, while the apolitical group uploaded screenshots about sports. I intend to compare the survey responses given by the two groups in order to assess whether or not the political treatment group expressed more polarized political opinions than the control group regarding the 2016 presidential election. Additionally, I plan to code all of the screenshots from the political treatment group in order to gain a greater understanding of the nature of the political content individuals are exposed to on Facebook and the extent to which individuals are exposed to content that is concurrent or dissonant with their preexisting political preferences. Based on the results of these analyses, I will design and implement new studies to further delve in the effect of social media on political polarization.