My dissertation, which I successfully defended on September 30, 2015, is a study of political disagreement in response to news and strategic communication on social media. Prior research on this topic has focused on exposure to disagreement, but by drawing from both classic social-psychological literature and newer ideas about online social information processing, I’m building a novel theory of the effects of experiencing disagreement on social media. I argue that even though users are more likely to “write off” the disagreement they encounter on social media about issues they perceive as irrelevant to their political identities, these same users actually end up experiencing more relevant political disagreement overall on social media than they do in face-to-face settings.
To put it simply, the ways in which we encounter opinions on social media make us more likely to engage with disagreeable content posted by people we consider relevant to our own lives. This kind of exposure is fundamentally altering the process of how we engage with persuasive messages. Relevant disagreement creates opportunities for us to consider new and different ideas, and understanding social media in this way could have broad implications for how journalists, activists, marketers, politicians, and others develop and promote messages to get communities talking about issues and ideas.