The Rear Window Effect: How Users Respond to Political Discussions and Persuasive Discourses in Social Media
Social media facilitates the exposure of individuals to a wide range of political discussions and opinions. Extant research investigated how citizens participate in these deliberative behaviors and their implications for democratic citizenship, paying scant attention to users’ avoidance tactics. In this study, we further investigate individuals’ perceptions and attitudes toward the political discussions they encounter on social media, and toward their influence on their political opinion (i.e., persuasion). Based on in-depth interviews with 30 Spanish social media users, we show how online political discussions trigger what we conceptualize as the rear window effect, a metaphor drawn from Alfred Hitchcock’s film Rear Window that encapsulates the exceptional circumstances under which users take a stand and express their political views online. We also show that users manage to effectively persuade by posting about their experiences and personal narratives. This study contributes to extant literature by theorizing about users’ common reluctance to be politically active on social media, the rationales that shape their sporadic participation, and the mechanisms by which they are persuaded.