“Shouting Matches and Echo Chambers”: Perceived Identity Threats and Political Self-Censorship on Social Media

Elia Powers, Michael Koliska, Pallavi Guha


This mixed-methods study, conducted during the highly polarizing and uncivil 2016 U.S. presidential election, examines how college students’ conceptions of audience and the tone of discourse on social media informed their decisions to express or withhold political opinions. A preelection survey found that students (N = 198) preferred to discuss political views offline rather than on social media. Postelection focus groups (N = 196) found near consensus that posting political opinions on social media was an ineffective way to persuade others or break new ground in political dialogue. Participants perceived no benefit to sharing opinions that had already widely circulated within their politically homogenous social network, and they sought to avoid conflicts they witnessed when outspoken members of their networks engaged with people with whom they disagreed. We explore how students’ impression management and perceived identity threats led them to limit political expression on social media despite having strong interest in and feelings about the election.


impression management, identity threat, online incivility, political engagement, presidential election, social media

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