Worlds apart? Solidarity concepts and political orientations in social media

Do social media exacerbate social and political divisions? The project examines concepts of solidarity in current facebook debates.

Social Media, Facebook, solidarity

The project overview

Area of Science: Social Sciences
Location: Austria
Used Devices: with PC/Mobile
Equipment of citizen scientists: Computer with internet access and word processing programm, Facebook account
Activities of citizen scientists: sharing ideas, collecting, analysing, other activities
Suitable for: Adults
Project duration: 01.11.2018 - 31.10.2019
Time to join in: 01.02.2019 - 31.10.2019
Expenditure of time: Training in data collection 1 day; Conduct of debates in Facebook groups 1 day; Anonymization of collected data about 3-4 hours; Participation in data analysis 1 day; Optional: Public presentation of research results 3-4 hours and writing reports 1-2 days

Project objective

Growing tensions between nationalist and exclusivist concepts of solidarity on the one hand and inclusive and universal ones on the other reflect deepening societal cleavages in Austria and in the EU. This has become particularly obvious in the debates about the arrival of large numbers of refugees in Europe. Social media are said to exacerbate divisions: The specific algorithms of Facebook, for example, feed ‘timelines’ in a customized way based on people’s online behavior. What people perceive as ‘objective’ information is thus actually highly pre-filtered. Thereby social media create what is called a ‘filter bubble’ of ideological isolation. In addition, people communicate mainly within delimited social media ‘groups’.

The project "Worlds apart? Solidarity concepts and political orientations in social media (SOPO)" aims to analyse different and opposing concepts of solidarity. It focuses on social media, first, as a way to get access to representations of, and expressions by, people from different societal and political milieus and, second, to understand how social media contribute to the formation and confirmation of separate and opposing political attitudes and concepts of solidarity. Therefore, SOPO will explore the following questions:

1) What kind of concepts of solidarity are present in (political) debates in different social media communities?
2) How are these concepts of solidarity constructed and negotiated within a certain group?
3) How are the boundaries of the solidary community between those who are included and those who are excluded  drawn and negotiated?

As the different, individual social media groups are difficult to access for researchers, we enter the field by including citizens as researchers of their own life-world. This citizen science approach helps us, first, to get access to, and to gain extensive insights in different bubbles and, second, to improve, based on citizen scientists’ knowledge, the scientific interpretations.

How to participate?

Between December 2018 and February 2019 a call for participation in the project will be spread via public postings on the Facebook walls of organisations with different political backgrounds (Trade Unions, Political Parties, Sports clubs etc.). Alternatively, interested parties who meet the mentioned criteria (computer with Internet connection and word processing program, Facebook account actively used for at least one year) can also contact the contact persons listed below directly by email. 10 people with different characteristics concerning gender, age, region, occupation, work position, family status etc. will be recruited as citizen scientists. They will be offered a remuneration for their participation in the data collection.

Citizen scientists will firstly be trained for data collection during a one-day-workshop organised by the project team. After that they will be asked to invite and guide debates within their Facebook communities concerning pre-defined topics. The discussions will then be analysed in a first round by the academic research team. Afterwards, the citizen scientists will (re-)interpret the empirical material together with the professional researchers in a workshop. The joint analysis of the researchers and the citizen scientists will be finally published in academic publications and brought back into society via (social) media and a public event. Participation of the citizen scientist in the dissemination of research results is possible but not compulsory.

What happens to contributions of Citizen Scientists?

The contributions of the citizen scientists will be analysed together with the professional research team. Afterwards the project results will be disseminated within the scientific community as well as within the broader public. Therefore the results will be presented at international academic conferences and in scientific journals as well as at a final public event and in social and traditional media.

Participating and supporting institutions


Saskja Schindler (Universität Wien)

Annika Schönauer (FORBA)

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