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Social Media and Rigid Beliefs: Evidence from Impeachment of the President

Aug 2018
Working Paper
1021
Yong Suk Lee

Controversial news with little to no factual support has been proliferating in recent years. Such news has spread widely via social media, where individuals can easily create and distribute news. Using the news and events surrounding the impeachment of the former South Korean president Park Geun-hye, Lee examines (1) the relationship between social media use and beliefs in controversial news and (2) the relationship between protest participation and rigid beliefs based on social media use. The results indicate that individuals who use social media as their primary source of news are significantly more rigid in their beliefs in controversial news. Further, those who strongly believe in controversial news and are more consistent or extreme in their ideological views are more likely to participate in (more) protests. Moreover, this pattern is significantly stronger for those who primarily get their news from social media. Protests can have real-world impacts on public opinion and the policy-making process. Furthermore, a relatively small number of people can effectively mobilize political protests. Though protest participation is an individual choice, it is influenced by others and initially coordinated by a small number of people. The findings of this paper suggest that social media may allow a small group of people, potentially with more polarized and rigid beliefs, to have a disproportionately large impact on public opinion and policy-making in modern democracies.Controversial news with little to no factual support has been proliferating in recent years. Such news has spread widely via social media, where individuals can easily create and distribute news. Using the news and events surrounding the impeachment of the former South Korean president Park Geun-hye, Lee examines (1) the relationship between social media use and beliefs in controversial news and (2) the relationship between protest participation and rigid beliefs based on social media use. The results indicate that individuals who use social media as their primary source of news are significantly more rigid in their beliefs in controversial news. Further, those who strongly believe in controversial news and are more consistent or extreme in their ideological views are more likely to participate in (more) protests. Moreover, this pattern is significantly stronger for those who primarily get their news from social media. Protests can have real-world impacts on public opinion and the policy-making process. Furthermore, a relatively small number of people can effectively mobilize political protests. Though protest participation is an individual choice, it is influenced by others and initially coordinated by a small number of people. The findings of this paper suggest that social media may allow a small group of people, potentially with more polarized and rigid beliefs, to have a disproportionately large impact on public opinion and policy-making in modern democracies.

Publication Keywords: 
Social Media
News
Rigid Beliefs
Polarization
Protests
Impeachment
Geographic Regions: 
East Asia