‘Unfriending’: Polarization and Political Disagreement in Social Networks

Monday, March 6, 2023 (3:30 PM – 5:00 PM)

Yanna Krupnikov

Professor of Communication and Media
Faculty Associate, Center for Political Studies
University of Michigan

Stories of polarization in the media have often focused on anecdotes about people who have stopped speaking with friends and family due to political differences — e.g. “unfriended” others due to politics. The possibility that politics has shifted long-term individual relationships has broad social implications. Therefore, we analyze why and when people are most likely to “unfriend.” We argue that political disagreement is often the final step in a general breakdown of a relationship. In other words, when political disagreements occur, people are more likely to “unfriend” those whom they found unpleasant prior to the disagreement. Our results come from four national experiments. The first tracks the relative frequency of “unfriending” over political disagreement versus other types of interactions. The second considers whether it is political disagreement specifically that leads to “unfriending.” The final two studies combine these ideas, tracking the conditions that are most likely to produce “unfriending” in different contexts of political extremity and polarization.

Yanna Krupnikov is Professor of Communication and Media at the University of Michigan. Her work focuses on political communication, in particular attention to news, political expression and social interactions. 


If you have questions about this event, please click here to contact Rachael Hamilton.