Is Online Debate Widening Our Political Divide?

Study finds that political expression on social media hardens political beliefs and hampers consensus.

Political expression is at the heart of democracy, and the Internet has greatly empowered citizens to express themselves. A recent study by Professor Jaeho Cho and graduate student Saifuddin Ahmed suggests, however, that the increase in online political expression has mixed implications for the health of democracy.

Although it provides an opportunity for intrapersonal reflection and contributes to a vibrant democracy, political expression through various online outlets also results in the hardening of citizens’ political identities and prior beliefs, thus hampering balanced reasoning and collective deliberation.

Data from a national survey in the U.S. and an online discussion forum study conducted in South Korea reveal that political expressions on social media and the online forum reinforce the expressers’ partisan thought process and harden their pre-existing political preferences.

This study provides a new perspective on understanding citizen expression by examining its political implications for the expressers themselves rather than those exposed to the expressed ideas.

This study is forthcoming in Communication Research, which is ranked 5/76 with a five-year impact factor of 3.581.

Drawing on this study, Professor Cho’s current research projects look at conditions that shape the outcome of political expression, examining the circumstances for which expression leads to deliberative outcomes.