Political talk is valuable for citizens in democracy–particularly cross-cutting talk to heterogeneous others. Yet the role played by sociability in relation to political talk has not been sufficiently understood. When we talk politics with people with whom we have social relationships, does this promote open political talk by creating mutual understanding and intimacy? Or is candid political expression hindered by attempts to maintain harmony? This paper examines the role of sociability for online political talk, through a unique opportunity to compare two naturally occurring groups on the mobile instant-messaging application WhatsApp. Both groups engage in informal political talk, but while one group is devoted to political talk solely, the other mixes politics with social chit-chat, enabling social interaction and friendships among participants. A comparison of the groups based on in-depth interviews with 20 members and the groups’ administrator, complemented by excerpts of discussion content, allows to trace the role of sociability for political talk in online groups. Findings point to an increased personal and emotional dimension to the group combining politics and sociability. This kind of political talk was perceived as riskier and more challenging. At the same time, it is in this group that cross-cutting exposure had a stronger potential to persuade participants to see and understand ‘the other side.’ These findings highlight how not only certain social media–but even certain groups within the same platform–can afford different kinds of political talk.
- cross-cutting exposure
- political talk
- social media
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Library and Information Sciences