Social media enable their users to be connected with a diverse group of people increasing their chances of coming across divergent viewpoints. Thus, network diversity is a key issue for understanding the potentials of social media for creating a cross-cutting communication space that is one of the premises of a functioning democracy. This article analyzes the strategies social media users adopt to manage their network diversity in the context of increasing polarization. The study is based on 29 semi-structured interviews with diverse social media users from Turkey and qualitative network maps. Furthermore, the study adopts a cross-platform approach comparing Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp in relation to the diversity of their users’ networks. The study shows that social media users adopt different strategies interchangeably in specific contexts. These strategies include visible (unfriending, blocking) and invisible (muting, unfollowing, and ignoring) forms of disconnection, debating, observing divergent opinions, and self-censorship. Political interest of social media users, political climate, issue sensitivity, and “imagined affordances” of social media platforms play a role in users’ choices about which strategy to choose when they are confronted with divergent viewpoints through their diverse online networks. Building on the unfriending literature that points out to rather partisan users, who unfriend, unfollow or block others, this article demonstrates that in peak moments of polarization, also the politically disengaged or moderate users disconnect from diverse others.
- network diversity
- social media