Network characteristics matter in politics on Facebook: evidence from a US national survey

Published date11 June 2018
Date11 June 2018
AuthorYanqin Lu,Jae Kook Lee,Eunyi Kim
Subject MatterLibrary & information science,Information behaviour & retrieval,Collection building & management,Bibliometrics,Databases,Information & knowledge management,Information & communications technology,Internet,Records management & preservation,Document management
Network characteristics matter in
politics on Facebook: evidence
from a US national survey
Yanqin Lu
School of Media and Communication,
Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, USA
Jae Kook Lee
The Media School, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, USA and
Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, Sungkyunkwan University,
Seoul, South Korea, and
Eunyi Kim
Department of Journalism and Communication, Institute of Social Science,
Incheon National University, Incheon, South Korea
Purpose Facebook has been identified as a primary source of political information by a majority
(63 percent) of its users. The purpose of this paper is to examine the relationship between Facebook use and
political participation, and investigate the mediating effects of the characteristics of ones Facebook network
(i.e. network size, proportion of strong ties, and discussion network heterogeneity).
Design/methodology/approach This study relies on a representative survey of American adults
(n¼1,032) conducted during the 2012 primary election campaigns from May 3 to May 10. The sample was
randomly selected from a representative online panel maintained by a professional research organization.
Given this studys focus on the influence of Facebook use and network characteristics, an online panel is
suitable for testing the hypotheses.
Findings The results show positive associations between Facebook use and both off- and online political
participation. Further, the positive association between Facebook use and political participation is mediated
by discussion network heterogeneity and the proportion of strong ties in ones Facebook network, but not the
network size.
Originality/value This study sheds light on the roles played by network characteristics of Facebook.
The composition of a users Facebook network is closely related with what kind of information she encounters
and how likely she is to participate in politics. Hence, network characteristics (e.g. Facebook discussion
network heterogeneity) arise as important for gaining a nuanced understanding of the relationship between
general use of the medium and its political outcomes.
Keywords Facebook, Political participation, Network heterogeneity, Network size, Strong tie
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
Social media have been playing an increasingly important role in public life. As the most
popular social media platform, Facebook is considered a primary news source by a majority
(63 percent) of its users, particularly in the realm of politics (Barthel et al., 2015).
The growing prominence of Facebook necessitates a better understanding of its role in
influencing political participation, as engagement in politics has long been regarded as an
essential aspect of a well-functioning democracy (Held, 2006; Putnam, 2000).
While previous literature has extensively investigated the relationship between
Facebook use and political participation (e.g. Tufekci and Wilson, 2012; Vissers and Stolle,
Online Information Review
Vol. 42 No. 3, 2018
pp. 372-386
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/OIR-09-2016-0262
Received 13 September 2016
Revised 30 June 2017
Accepted 30 August 2017
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
This work was supported by Incheon National University (International Cooperative) Research
Grant in 2015.

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