The Birth of Social Affect and Political Disagreement on Social Media – Olayemi Esan

I took my time on Monday morning to look into the reasons why people disagree on social media and many times resulted into cyber bully and hatred from close friends.

Over the cause of my career , I have been criticized many times by social media users on ideas that does not align with them. Some are even polite to tell it straight to you that they disagree with your opinion about issues and then, presented theirs on the same issue.

Some with poor cultural values would composed abusive words and sentences that, you will wonder how it could turn out to be fight when these people see you in a physical world, what would have happened to you with them.

The perception of political disagreement is more prevalent on social media than it is in face-to-face communication, and it may be associated with negative affect toward others.

According to Matthew Barnidge, in his research on Social Affect and Political Disagreement on Social Media, he analysed Political disagreement as an important concept to democratic theory because it is believed to promote tolerance of the other side (Mutz, 2006), and it is thought to encourage people to think more deeply about previously held ideas (Price, Cappella, & Nir, 2002). Recent research suggests that social media largely increase perceived political disagreement relative to political talk in face-to-face settings. Evidence of this comparative difference comes from both surveys (Barnidge, 2015, 2017; Kim, 2011; Kim et al., 2013) and “big data” (Bakshy et al., 2015; Barberá, 2014).

This relative increase in perceived disagreement likely occurs because social media tend to diversify news networks (Kim et al., 2013). Specifically, social media promote exposure to cross-cutting information in comparison to face-to-face settings because the social norms of interaction on these platforms do not discourage the expression of opposing viewpoints (Barnidge, 2017). While both face-to-face and social media networks tend to sustain social connections characterized by overlapping dimensions of social affiliation (in fact, many people use social media to map face-to-face networks onto online platforms rather than to meet new people, see boyd & Ellison, 2007; Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007), most individuals seek common ground in face-to-face discussion (Conover, Searing, & Crewe, 2002; MacKuen, 1990; Walsh, 2004), and social groups typically discourage disagreement (Eliasoph, 1998; Walsh, 2004). By contrast, social media promote information sharing and commenting (Bakshy, Rosenn, Marlow, & Adamic, 2012; Brundidge, 2010; Loader & Mercea, 2011), which means that social media do not necessarily discourage the expression of dissent in the same way that it is often discouraged in face-to-face settings.

To briefly summarize the results, respondents rated face-to-face social contacts more positively than they did social media contacts. Meanwhile, they also report more perceived disagreement on social media than in face-to-face settings. These variables are negatively related to one another regardless of communication setting, but the cross-medium differences are also negatively related, meaning that less favorable interpersonal evaluations on social media are related to perceiving more disagreement on social media.

These results point toward two specific conclusions. First, social media introduces more negative affect into social networks. Social media use tends to diversify communication within social networks by making people aware of what others think and feel about political and social issues (Kwon et al., 2014). They also provide ample opportunities for the self-disclosure of social cues (Walther, 1992, 2011), and people use these cues to form impressions about others in their social networks. Thus, social media enhance the perception of difference, and interpersonal contacts in these environments are typically rated less positively than interpersonal contacts in face-to-face communication (Sprecher & Hampton, 2017).

Second, this relative increase in negative affect complements existing explanations for the comparative increase in perceived political disagreement across communication settings. Whether through social judgment (Sherif & Hovland, 1961) or social identity (Tajfel, 1982) processes, affective interpersonal evaluations play an important role in how people come to perceive political disagreement on social media. Negative affect can distort cognitive information processing (Anderson, 1989; Kaplan & Anderson, 1973), and it can result from in-group identification such that it influences subsequent cognition and perception (Brewer, 1999; Iyengar et al., 2012).

These conclusions are related to several important, ongoing scholarly conversations. First, the results speak to ideas about deliberative democracy and previous understandings of the nature of political disagreement. According to this perspective, which gained popularity among scholars during the “deliberative turn” of the 1980s and 1990s, disagreement is largely beneficial for society because it represents rational engagement with the other side in politics (e.g., Gutmann & Thompson, 1998; Mansbridge, 1999). But these results suggest there may be more the disagreement than a simple misalignment of ideas. Rather, this study shows that affective evaluations of others may have an influence on the perception of disagreement. Thus, rather than treating disagreement as a purely cognitive and rational process among adults who can and should ultimately “agree to disagree,” future research should focus on elaborating on the ways that affect shapes disagreement and its outcomes.

One of these outcomes is political tolerance and, by extension, intergroup prejudice and discrimination. Prior research suggests that disagreement promotes political tolerance (Mutz, 2006), and this is often touted as one of its primary democratic benefits. However, it seems an important and valid concern to wonder if disagreement motivated by negative affect may erode, rather than build, political tolerance. Indeed, perhaps this erosion is one of the reasons that scholars have noted an increase in affective polarization, or dislike for the other side in politics, in response to social identity or political group identification processes (e.g., Iyengar et al., 2012). The biggest concern for scholars of democracy, of course, is whether this decline in political tolerance leads to intergroup prejudice and discrimination (Tajfel, 1982).

These discussion points are also related to the general themes outlined by Papacharissi (2015), whose work on social media suggests that political expression has taken an “affective turn” as people largely seek to “feel” their connection to politics through individualized, often plaintive, expression about politics and political events. The findings of this study support the idea that social media may alter the social structures that govern political expression and civic engagement, and reinforce the notion that affect, specifically negative affect, plays a major role in political discourse in these venues. Overall, these changes to public communication may contribute to the general feeling that politics has grown more contentious in recent times (Wells et al., 2017).

The conclusions outlined above are limited in several important ways. First, the article relies on self-reported survey measures of perceived political disagreement and interpersonal evaluation. While this limitation is common to survey research, these types of self-reported measures are prone to bias. Future research could combine survey measures with observational data to triangulate on the problem of disagreement and interpersonal evaluation. Second, a related limitation involves the subtle difference in question wording of the social media and face-to-face name generators. The social media name generators ask respondents to name a person who posts about politics, while the face-to-face name generators ask respondents to name someone they have talked to. The choice to word these items differently was made deliberately in order to maximize realism. However, while this choice maximizes realism, it also sacrifices a degree of comparability, and readers should exercise caution when interpreting those comparisons for that reason. Third, the survey does not distinguish between specific social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, opting for the more generic language “social media.” Because differences among these platforms could be important, future research could focus on examining differences in the processes outlined above across social media platforms. Fourth, cognitive processes such as reflection and elaboration are not directly measured in this study, but rather treated as unobserved mechanisms. Therefore, cognitive and affective processes cannot be directly compared. Future research could directly measure these processes. Fifth, the opt-in, internet panel survey is not, strictly speaking, a probability sample, which means the sample may not be representative of the target population. However, the sample is comparable to the target population in terms of demographics and, importantly, social media use. Finally, these data are cross-sectional and therefore cannot be used to make causal inferences. While a snapshot of relationships has been assembled based on theory, it is plausible that interpersonal evaluation results from perceived disagreement rather than vice versa. Future research is needed to establish the causal order in this important relationship. Future research could also focus on the differences between conservatives and liberals in terms of both interpersonal evaluations and perceived political disagreement, as prior research has shown that conservatives are less likely to perceive disagreement on social media, and, therefore, interpersonal evaluations could also differ between these groups.

Despite these limitations, this study has provided evidence that social media contribute to the growth of negative affect in political communication. Moreover, this negative affect is related to the comparatively high degree of perceived political disagreement that people encounter in social media settings. Thus, to a certain extent, perceived disagreement in social media settings has its roots in effective communication processes.

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