Participating or Tuning Out? Engagement With Political Content on Social Media

Ianis Bucholtz

Abstract


Drawing on theoretical explanations of political information consumption, political self-expression, and social media affordances, this article examines the engagement of social media users from Latvia with political content in the context of parliamentary elections. According to the results of semi-structured interviews (N = 49), social media can facilitate following politics and expose users to information they have not been actively seeking out. While users are able to curate their newsfeeds, not all of the interviewees did so actively to disengage from political content even though they were not interested in it and displayed signs of information overload. This kind of incidental exposure did not substantially contribute to their willingness to engage with politics. Although many interviewees were politically active in some way, their hesitation to express their opinions about political matters persisted. This is explained by a perception of political participation as activities that should be undertaken in private, rather than publicly communicated. Furthermore, social media affordances that allow users to be visible and identifiable are shown to exacerbate the obstacles to expressing political views.


Keywords


political participation, political expression, political content, social media for news, social media affordances

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