Abstract: The effect of viewing political content on Facebook on an individual’s political leanings

The exchange of differing political views is essential to the efficacy of a democratic system. Online social network sites (SNS), such as Facebook, provide a new medium through which political content can be shared and viewed by a large number of individuals. Ideally, this content has the potential to contribute to the exchange of political ideas and perspectives. However, the mere presence of political content on Facebook, or other social media, does not guarantee that political persuasion is taking place. It is possible that viewing political content online simply causes people to entrench further in their pre-existing beliefs, or has no effect at all. While previous literature has drawn correlations between SNS use and political ideology, this study will investigate the relationship experimentally. Participants will log into Facebook on lab computers and spend 10 minutes looking through their timelines for political posts. One group will be tasked to focus on posts concurrent with their beliefs, another will focus on posts dissonant with their beliefs, and the third will look for both. The Facebook session will be followed by a survey assessing political ideology and candidate preference for the 2016 presidential election. If political content on Facebook is persuasive, then the concurrent-post group is expected to give more polarized responses to the survey questions than the dissonant-post group. However, if the content has either a reinforcing effect or no effect, then both groups should give similarly polarized responses.