How Facebook Users Experience Political Disagreements and Make Decisions About the Political Homogenization of Their Online Network
Research has documented that social media allow individuals to encounter political disagreement, potentially fostering deliberation in democratic systems. Another strand of studies has indicated that individuals tend to actively homogenize their network by removing (unfriending) political dissenters. To shed light on the psychological connection between encountering political disagreement online and acting in response, this study presents results from in-depth interviews with 20 German Facebook users. In line with cognitive dissonance theory, we found that users engage in different intrapsychic and behavioral strategies to reduce the dissonance provoked by political disagreements, such as mentally discrediting the source or legitimizing the existence of alternative viewpoints. Decisions about drastic measures, such as unfriending the source, are conditional on whether individuals perceive the disagreements as relatively severe or the relationship to the dissenter as relatively close. These findings inform literature on cross-cutting exposure and the political homogenization of online networks.