The effects of Facebook and Instagram on the 2020 election: A deactivation experiment

Hunt Allcott, Matthew Gentzkow, Winter Mason, Arjun Wilkins, Pablo Barberá, Taylor Brown, Juan Carlos Cisneros, Adriana Crespo-Tenorio, Drew Dimmery, Deen Freelon, Sandra González-Bailón, Andrew M. Guess, Young Mie Kim, David Lazer, Neil Malhotra, Devra Moehler, Sameer Nair-Desai, Houda Nait El Barj, Brendan Nyhan, Ana Carolina Paixao de QueirozJennifer Pan, Jaime Settle, Emily Thorson, Rebekah Tromble, Carlos Velasco Rivera, Benjamin Wittenbrink, Magdalena Wojcieszak, Saam Zahedian, Annie Franco, Chad Kiewiet de Jonge, Natalie Jomini Stroud, Joshua A. Tucker

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    Abstract

    We study the effect of Facebook and Instagram access on political beliefs, attitudes, and behavior by randomizing a subset of 19,857 Facebook users and 15,585 Instagram users to deactivate their accounts for 6 wk before the 2020 U.S. election. We report four key findings. First, both Facebook and Instagram deactivation reduced an index of political participation (driven mainly by reduced participation online). Second, Facebook deactivation had no significant effect on an index of knowledge, but secondary analyses suggest that it reduced knowledge of general news while possibly also decreasing belief in misinformation circulating online. Third, Facebook deactivation may have reduced self-reported net votes for Trump, though this effect does not meet our preregistered significance threshold. Finally, the effects of both Facebook and Instagram deactivation on affective and issue polarization, perceived legitimacy of the election, candidate favorability, and voter turnout were all precisely estimated and close to zero.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Article numbere2321584121
    JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
    Volume121
    Issue number21
    DOIs
    StatePublished - 2024

    Keywords

    • Facebook
    • Instagram
    • election
    • polarization
    • social media

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General

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