“You’re still worth it”: The moral and relational context of politically motivated unfriending decisions in online networks

German Neubaum, Manuel Cargnino, Stephan Winter, Shira Dvir-Gvirsman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Political disagreements in social media can result in removing (i.e., “unfriending”) a person from one’s online network. Given that such actions could lead to the (ideological) homogenization of networks, it is pivotal to understand the psychological processes intertwined in unfriending decisions. This requires not only addressing different types of disagreements but also analyzing them in the relational context they occur. This article proposes that political disagreements leading to drastic measures such as unfriending are attributable to more deeply rooted moral dissents. Based on moral foundations theory and relationship regulation research, this work presents empirical evidence from two experiments. In both studies, subjects rated political statements (that violated different moral foundations) with regard to perceived reprehensibility and the likelihood of unfriending the source. Study 1 (N = 721) revealed that moral judgments of a political statement are moderately related to the unfriending decision. Study 2 (N = 822) replicated this finding but indicated that unfriending is less likely when the source of the morally reprehensible statement is relationally close to the unfriender and provides emotional support. This research extends unfriending literature by pointing to morality as a new dimension of analysis and offers initial evidence uncovering the psychological trade-off behind the decision of terminating digital ties. Drawing on this, our findings inform research on the homogenization of online networks by indicating that selective avoidance (in the form of politically motivated unfriending) is conditional upon the relational context and the interpersonal benefits individuals receive therein.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0243049
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume16
Issue number1 January
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2021

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