Social media, polarization and democracy: a multi-methods analysis of polarized users' interactions on Reddit's r/WallStreetBets

  • In times of increased political polarization, the continuing existence of a deliberative arena where people with antagonistic views may engage with each other in non-violent ways is critical for democracy to live on. Social media are usually not conceived as such arenas. On the contrary, there has been widespread worry about their role in increasing polarization and political violence. This paper suggests a more positive impact of social media on democracy. Our analysis focuses on the subreddit “r/WallStreetBets” (r/WSB) - a finance-related forum that came under the spotlight when its users coordinated a financial attack on hedge funds during the Gamestop saga in early 2021. Based on an original method attributing partisanship scores to users, we present a network analysis of interactions between users at the opposite sides of the political spectrum on r/WSB. We then develop a content analysis of politically relevant threads in which polarized users participate. Our analyses show that r/WSB provides a rare space where users with antagonistic political leanings engage with each other, debate, and even cooperate.

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Author:Elsa Clara MassocORCiD, Maximilian Lubda
Parent Title (English):SAFE working paper ; No. 337, LawFin Working Paper ; No. 28
Series (Serial Number):LawFin Working Paper (28)
SAFE working paper (337)
Place of publication:Frankfurt am Main
Document Type:Working Paper
Year of Completion:2021
Year of first Publication:2022
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Release Date:2022/01/19
Tag:democracy; investment forum; polarization; social media
Issue:Date of first version: 17 December 2021
Page Number:22
This research benefited from the support of the Leibniz Institute for Financial Research SAFE [grant number 123102] and was funded by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG) – project FOR 2774.
Institutes:Wirtschaftswissenschaften / Wirtschaftswissenschaften
Wissenschaftliche Zentren und koordinierte Programme / House of Finance (HoF)
Wissenschaftliche Zentren und koordinierte Programme / Center for Financial Studies (CFS)
Wissenschaftliche Zentren und koordinierte Programme / Sustainable Architecture for Finance in Europe (SAFE)
Wissenschaftliche Zentren und koordinierte Programme / DFG-Forschergruppen / Foundation of Law and Finance
Dewey Decimal Classification:3 Sozialwissenschaften / 33 Wirtschaft / 330 Wirtschaft
Licence (German):License LogoDeutsches Urheberrecht