Getting Political on Social Network Sites: Exploring Online Political Discourse on Facebook

Matthew J. Kushin

Washington State University

Kelin Kitchener

University of Idaho

February 1, 2009

Annual Convention of the Western States Communication Association, Phoenix, Paper

This study explores use of the social network site Facebook for online political discussion. A computer-mediated discourse analysis is applied to examine discussion occurring within a Facebook group concentrated on the contentious issue of state-sanctioned torture. Online political discussion has been criticized for isolating disagreeing persons from engaging in discussion and for having an atmosphere of uncivil discussion behavior. The researchers examine the presence of discussion between disagreeing parties and the civil nature of political discussion within the Facebook group under study. Analysis reveals the participation of disagreeing parties within the discussion with the large majority of posters (73%) expressing support for the stated position of the Facebook group, and a minority of posters (17%) expressing opposition to the position of the group. These results demonstrate the presence of discussion among disagreeing parties within the group, indicating that Facebook functioned to some extent to enable interaction among those who disagree. Despite the presence of uncivil discussion posting within the Facebook group, the large majority of discussion participation (75%) is devoid of flaming. This represents a willingness on the part of participants to engage in a discussion even though uncivil or aggressive communication styles are present. Reference within the discussion to a participant's Facebook profile was present although uncommon. Results of this study provide important groundwork and raise new questions for study of online political discussion as it occurs in the emergent internet technologies of social network sites. The authors advocate that further exploration is needed into the potentials of social media in the civic process.

Keywords: Facebook, social network sites, political discourse, terrorism, social media, web 2.0

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Date posted: November 16, 2008  

Suggested Citation

Kushin, Matthew J. and Kitchener, Kelin, Getting Political on Social Network Sites: Exploring Online Political Discourse on Facebook (February 1, 2009). Annual Convention of the Western States Communication Association, Phoenix, Paper. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1300565

Contact Information

Matthew J. Kushin (Contact Author)
Washington State University ( email )
Wilson Rd.
College of Business
Pullman, WA 99164
United States
HOME PAGE: http://https://mysite.wsu.edu/personal/mkushin/e-portfolio/default.aspx
Kelin Kitchener
University of Idaho ( email )
875 Perimeter Drive
Moscow, ID 83844
United States
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