Political Polarization

As the U.S. becomes increasingly politically polarized, many blame social media platforms for incentivizing outrage and escalating division. Our experts explore ways to quantify polarization and examine its impact on society.

Academic Research

  • Working Paper

    Misinformation Exposure Beyond Traditional Feeds: Evidence from a WhatsApp Deactivation Experiment in Brazil

    Working Paper, May 2024

    View Article View abstract

    In most advanced democracies, concerns about the spread of misinformation are typically associated with feed-based social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. These platforms also account for the vast majority of research on the topic. However, in most of the world, particularly in Global South countries, misinformation often reaches citizens through social media messaging apps, particularly WhatsApp. To fill the resulting gap in the literature, we conducted a multimedia deactivation experiment to test the impact of reducing exposure to potential sources of misinformation on WhatsApp during the weeks leading up to the 2022 Presidential election in Brazil. We find that this intervention significantly reduced participants’ exposure to false rumors circulating widely during the election. However, consistent with theories of mass media minimal effects, a short-term reduction in exposure to misinformation ahead of the election did not lead to significant changes in belief accuracy, political polarization, or well-being.

  • Journal Article

    The Effects of Facebook and Instagram on the 2020 Election: A Deactivation Experiment

    • Hunt Alcott, 
    • Matthew Gentzkow, 
    • Winter Mason, 
    • Arjun Wilkins, 
    • Pablo Barberá
    • Taylor Brown, 
    • Juan Carlos Cisneros, 
    • Adriana Crespo-Tenorio, 
    • Drew Dimmery, 
    • Deen Freelon, 
    • Sandra González-Bailón
    • Andrew M. Guess
    • Young Mie Kim, 
    • David Lazer, 
    • Neil Malhotra, 
    • Devra Moehler, 
    • Sameer Nair-Desai, 
    • Houda Nait El Barj, 
    • Brendan Nyhan, 
    • Ana Carolina Paixao de Queiroz, 
    • Jennifer Pan, 
    • Jaime Settle, 
    • Emily Thorson, 
    • Rebekah Tromble, 
    • Carlos Velasco Rivera, 
    • Benjamin Wittenbrink, 
    • Magdalena Wojcieszak
    • Saam Zahedian, 
    • Annie Franco, 
    • Chad Kiewiet De Jong, 
    • Natalie Jomini Stroud, 
    • Joshua A. Tucker

    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2024

    View Article View abstract

    We study the effect of Facebook and Instagram access on political beliefs, attitudes, and behavior by randomizing a subset of 19,857 Facebook users and 15,585 Instagram users to deactivate their accounts for 6 wk before the 2020 U.S. election. We report four key findings. First, both Facebook and Instagram deactivation reduced an index of political participation (driven mainly by reduced participation online). Second, Facebook deactivation had no significant effect on an index of knowledge, but secondary analyses suggest that it reduced knowledge of general news while possibly also decreasing belief in misinformation circulating online. Third, Facebook deactivation may have reduced self-reported net votes for Trump, though this effect does not meet our preregistered significance threshold. Finally, the effects of both Facebook and Instagram deactivation on affective and issue polarization, perceived legitimacy of the election, candidate favorability, and voter turnout were all precisely estimated and close to zero.

View All Related Research

Reports & Analysis

View All Related Reports & Analysis

News & Commentary

View All Related News