10,000 Social Media Users Can(not) Be Wrong: The Effects of Popularity Cues and User Comments on Sharing Controversial Social Media News Stories

Arjen van Dalen


Building on the literature about online opinion expression and social influence biases, this study reports the results of a preregistered experiment of 1,225 Danish Facebook users studying how popularity cues and user comments affect people’s willingness to like, share, and comment on a social media news post about a controversial topic. Exposure to like-minded user comments triggered a spiral of empowerment making it more likely to share posts one agrees with and to speak out in a user comment. This effect was mediated by perceived support among Facebook users. Contrary to the logic of the spiral of silence, reading a discordant post with high popularity cues made people more willing to speak out.


Facebook, online opinion expression, social influence bias, popularity cues, comments

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