Out-group animosity drives engagement on social media

Steve Rathje, Jay J. Van Bavel, Sander van der Linden
2021 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America  
There has been growing concern about the role social media plays in political polarization. We investigated whether out-group animosity was particularly successful at generating engagement on two of the largest social media platforms: Facebook and Twitter. Analyzing posts from news media accounts and US congressional members (n = 2,730,215), we found that posts about the political out-group were shared or retweeted about twice as often as posts about the in-group. Each individual term referring
more » ... to the political out-group increased the odds of a social media post being shared by 67%. Out-group language consistently emerged as the strongest predictor of shares and retweets: the average effect size of out-group language was about 4.8 times as strong as that of negative affect language and about 6.7 times as strong as that of moral-emotional language—both established predictors of social media engagement. Language about the out-group was a very strong predictor of "angry" reactions (the most popular reactions across all datasets), and language about the in-group was a strong predictor of "love" reactions, reflecting in-group favoritism and out-group derogation. This out-group effect was not moderated by political orientation or social media platform, but stronger effects were found among political leaders than among news media accounts. In sum, out-group language is the strongest predictor of social media engagement across all relevant predictors measured, suggesting that social media may be creating perverse incentives for content expressing out-group animosity.
doi:10.1073/pnas.2024292118 pmid:34162706 pmcid:PMC8256037 fatcat:kcijrx6pb5cv5mlguli66nohhi