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People Suck: Research Shows Bashing Out-Groups Good for Social Media Shares

But enough meditation on Supreme Court rulings and labor market conditions; if I want my Google juice, I’ve got to get back to slagging my political “enemies”…or so says new research on social media engagement posted in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:

There has been growing concern about the role social media plays in political polarization. We investigated whether out-group animosity was particularly successful at generating engagement on two of the largest social media platforms: Facebook and Twitter. Analyzing posts from news media accounts and US congressional members (n = 2,730,215), we found that posts about the political out-group were shared or retweeted about twice as often as posts about the in-group. Each individual term referring to the political out-group increased the odds of a social media post being shared by 67%. Out-group language consistently emerged as the strongest predictor of shares and retweets: the average effect size of out-group language was about 4.8 times as strong as that of negative affect language and about 6.7 times as strong as that of moral-emotional language—both established predictors of social media engagement. Language about the out-group was a very strong predictor of “angry” reactions (the most popular reactions across all datasets), and language about the in-group was a strong predictor of “love” reactions, reflecting in-group favoritism and out-group derogation. This out-group effect was not moderated by political orientation or social media platform, but stronger effects were found among political leaders than among news media accounts. In sum, out-group language is the strongest predictor of social media engagement across all relevant predictors measured, suggesting that social media may be creating perverse incentives for content expressing out-group animosity [Steve Rathje, Jay J. Van Bavel, and Sander van der Linden, abstract, “Out-Group Animosity Drives Engagement on Social Media,” PNAS, 2021.06.29].


But we recognize that hatred of the other is a powerful virus….


  1. Ryan 2021-06-24

    I think the report is supposed to come out tomorrow regarding what our government knows about UFOs (or UAPs as they are called now, but UFO is a way better tag). Some speculate we will learn nothing. Some say that disclosure of alien beings is coming. I hope there are aliens, and I hope they are hostile so we humans can stand together for the first time in history rather than dividing ourselves based on our skin color, genitals, or to which made-up deity we cry to.

  2. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-06-24

    If that UFO report were to come out with any evidence of alien visitors, the research cited above indicates that the social media posts that would get the most attention would be those portraying the aliens as evil. If those flying saucers were flown by friendly ETs, they would get nearly as many retweets.

  3. Porter Lansing 2021-06-24

    What kind of boor would knowingly antagonize an out group of MAGA’s?

    That’s utterly despicable behavior!

    *Breaking; Rudy Guilliani has been disbarred for lying about Trump’s claim that he won the election.

  4. Ryan 2021-06-24

    Suspended, porter. don’t be like rudy with the exxxxxagerations.

  5. Arlo Blundt 2021-06-24

    Well…I’ll miss wacko Rudy if he leaves the public stage…he is so transparently loony in his claims, and he seems to know it, that he can barely keep a straight face. His defense is that, like every lawyer, he is diligently defending his client. It appears that Rudy, who is getting up there in years, decided to cash in his chips, go all in for Trump regardless of the consequences. There are limits to what a lawyer can ethically do in his defense of his client. Rudy exceeded those limits a long time ago.

  6. John Dale 2021-06-24

    Social media is the mouthpiece of intricate plans to separate us from the truth, and from one another.

    The election was stolen.

    Our system is (and has been) a joke in need of repair.

  7. Mark Anderson 2021-06-24

    Its always fun to put out nonsense, look at John Dale, let him have fun. It was really great stealing that election John, it was such a clever Trever. We knocked you down with a feather. Next time it will be even easier. No more long bus rides, just mailing it in works just fine.

  8. John 2021-06-24

    Ruddy will die before he regains meaningful use of his law license, This is merely the next turn of Rudy swirling the drain. He’s a legendary fall from grace, as are many senior republicans.
    “. . .if you want to get the mob get their lawyers . . .” McDeere, in The Firm

    Certain SD legislators ought pay attention . . . close attention.

  9. Arlo Blundt 2021-06-24

    Well…Rudy is currently 0 for 62 in court verdicts in his “Big Steal”deal of the century fraud…….he’s yet to go to court on “fun in the Ukraine” money laundering deal…and he may be suing a hair dye company…let the good times roll, Rudy.

  10. Wayne 2021-06-25

    This seems like a “well duh” piece.

    Cory, have you ever done an analysis of how many of your articles take aim at your political out-group vs highlighting the good work of your political in-group? My sense is your blog skews heavily towards the former. Probably not without reason; Republicans control so much in South Dakota that it’s a lot easier to lambast things you don’t like than it is to find and highlight the good of your own party.

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