There has been growing concern about the role social media plays in political polarization. We investigated whether out-group animosity was particularly successful at generating engagement on two of the largest social media platforms: Facebook and Twitter. Analyzing posts from news media accounts and US congressional members (n = 2,730,215), we found that posts about the political out-group were shared or retweeted about twice as often as posts about the in-group. Each individual term referring to the political out-group increased the odds of a social media post being shared by 67%. Out-group language consistently emerged as the strongest predictor of shares and retweets: the average effect size of out-group language was about 4.8 times as strong as that of negative affect language and about 6.7 times as strong as that of moral-emotional language—both established predictors of social media engagement. Language about the out-group was a very strong predictor of “angry” reactions (the most popular reactions across all datasets), and language about the in-group was a strong predictor of “love” reactions, reflecting in-group favoritism and out-group derogation. This out-group effect was not moderated by political orientation or social media platform, but stronger effects were found among political leaders than among news media accounts. In sum, out-group language is the strongest predictor of social media engagement across all relevant predictors measured, suggesting that social media may be creating perverse incentives for content expressing out-group animosity.
|Original language||English (US)|
|Journal||Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America|
|State||Published - Jun 29 2021|
- Social identity
- Social media
ASJC Scopus subject areas