People shy away from ‘liking’ political candidates on Facebook if their audience is more diverse

Having a more politically diverse network of Facebook friends made people shrink away from “Liking” a Donald Trump’s or Hillary Clinton’s pages during the 2016 U.S. election, according to recently published research.

“I began to be interested in the topic when I wanted to ‘Like’ certain political parties on Facebook to get updates from them but then felt that certain friends would judge me for this. This interest follows on from a body of work I did on context collapse (different audiences online) and how this constrains people’s actions online and in reality,” said study author Ben Marder of the University of Edinburgh.

For his study, which was published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, Marder surveyed 1,027 potential voters prior to the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

He found that those who reported a more politically diverse Facebook audience were less likely to “Like” the page of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, when presented with the opportunity to do so.

Those with a more diverse Facebook audience were also more likely to say they would feel anxious if others saw that they had “Liked” a particular candidate’s Facebook page.

“When making your political allegiance known online in different ways, it should be considered that this will be seen by a range of people who may hold different political views and this can lead to feeling socially anxious. To reduce feelings of social anxiety, it is best to try and gain political information outside of the view of others – for example subscribing to a newsletter or visiting politician or party websites,” Marder explained to PsyPost.

But it is unclear how well the findings translate to other online social media platforms, such as Twitter.

“The study was conducted on ‘Liking’ politicians on Facebook and the term ‘Liking’ of course implies some form of affection for X person,” Marder said. “It may be the case on Twitter — where you simply ‘follow’ — that social anxiety would be less, as following Trump does not imply so explicitly that you favour him (for example).”

“This research acts as a caveat for the well-discussed ‘echo chamber theory’ — which says we just echo the views of like-minded others who are in our network and the political press that is targeted at our own views,” he added.

“Although this is largely true, people feel anxious about echoing populist sentiment (within their own network), as within this network there will exist a minority of people with opposite political views of theirs (plus the majority of their network), therefore they choose not to be seen as politically aligned to avoid appearing undesirable to this minority. In essence the ‘strangers in the chamber muffle the echo.'”

The study was titled: “Trumped by context collapse: Examination of ‘Liking’ political candidates in the presence of audience diversity“.