I Shield Myself From Thee : Selective Avoidance on Social Media During Political Protests

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)112-131
Journal / PublicationPolitical Communication
Issue number1
Online published25 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2017


This study examines the phenomenon of politically motivated selective avoidance on Facebook in the context of the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement protests in 2014. We conceptualize selective avoidance as individual choices that users make to shield themselves from undesirable dissonant views by removing unwanted information and breaking social ties that transmit such information. Given the political turmoil and high level of polarization during the protests, we argue that selective avoidance was related to the socio-psychological factor of perceived out-group threat. We present an analysis of a survey of 769 students from Hong Kong conducted at the height of the street protests. We find that 15.6% of the respondents removed content and/or unfriended a Facebook friend during the protests. The use of Facebook for protest-related information and expression was associated with higher likelihood of selective avoidance, which in turn predicted actual participation in the street protests. The level of perceived out-group threat strengthened the positive relationship between Facebook use and selective avoidance. We thus argue that group conflict in a time of political turmoil may catalyze selective avoidance, transforming a heterogeneous socio-informational environment into a more insulated gated community. Such acts may promote protest participation but also lead to a more fragmented and polarized citizenry.