Psychological Processes in Social Media : Implications for Democracy

Social media platforms enable unprecedented human connection and communication for a wide variety of social, informational, political, and other purposes. Given the pervasiveness and consequences of social media use and emerging trends regarding its negative effects in political domains, there is a pressing need to better understand how social media affects political dialogue and democratic participation. Despite initial optimism, the capability of social media to enable broad participation in democratic expression and activity remains elusive. This chapter explores cognitive, affective, and motivational psychological processes influencing individual users of social media and the potential of these processes to undermine democratic behavior. We review how these processes interact with structural features of social media platforms to constrain, bias, and shape information and individual communication. When left unchecked, these processes curtail the representativeness of political views, increase polarization and incivility, and facilitate the perpetuation of disinformation. Implications for research and social media use are discussed.
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