The Question: What compels people to share political opinions on social media?
It's nearly impossible to scroll through your Facebook feed without seeing something political - especially now.
We're not referring to a link to John Oliver's latest riff on Donald Trump's terribleness or even a Huffington Post piece on Obama in Cuba. We're talking about the spontaneous political prattle your "friends" (and, let's face it, probably you) are posting.
On Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and other various social media platforms, individuals from all over the world use their feeds as a means of broadcasting their thoughts on politics.
We've broken down the different political social media users into three types:
The Endorphin Junkie
Turns out, there's a neurological reward for speaking up. When we share our personal thoughts and feelings on a social media page, it activates the brain’s reward system by assuaging the anxiety of keeping something in and validating yourself, one Harvard study found.
"Expressing beliefs that are important to you functions as a self-affirmation," psychology professor Joshua Hart of Union College in Schenectady, NY, told The Huffington Post. "It reminds you of the values that are central to your identity--and this gives you a psychological boost."
In other words, your brain compels you to declare #ImWithHer because it triggers a flood of happiness hormones in the brain. And the more original you get, the more you're rewarded: That same Harvard study found that sharing a unique thought of your own elicited a bigger boost than simply repeating the attitudes and opinions of others.
The virtual reward system is reinforced by another study that indicates that some posters on Facebook and Twitter are "less likely to share their opinions in face-to-face settings." This is familiar because it's essentially the online disinhibition effect -- when someone acts looser on the Internet than how they might in a face-to-face interaction.
Does this effect go hand-in-hand with political views? Probably. People acting more brazen online than they would IRL is essentially why Internet trolls exist, and trolls are prevalent everywhere regardless of topic.
"They're expressing themselves in a forum where they're likely to get a reaction, whether it's the one they want or not," Hart says.
In a study he and his team conducted last year, Hart found that people who are more sensitive to others' feedback are also more likely to post things on Facebook, including provocative or personal things. He believes political posts are a digital rallying cry, "similar to displaying a campaign sign on your lawn or bumper-sticker on your car."
Hart's study also suggests that people who are more "anxiously attached" are more likely to seek the feedback of others by engaging online -- posting more messages, pictures, comments, and so forth.
The Approval Seeker
It's pretty easy to vet other opinions before posting your own - you can just comb through your friends' pages or feeds. This means that someone can tailor their post to fit the majority opinion. There's no exact measurement for how often this happens, but, as seen in a study referencing social media opinions on the Edward Snowden-NSA revelations, some people said they were "more willing to share their views if they thought their audience would agree with them."
This sort of contradicts the mayhem that the iconoclast is trying to provoke, but as they say, "different strokes for different folks."
Hart says this "social consensus" is a great impetus for posting. When the likes roll in on a poster's political opinion, the acceptance from others makes them "become more confident in their beliefs." Hart says those likes, comments, or retweets offer "a sense of belonging to a community."
He goes on to say that if the likes aren't a good enough reason to post, then another reason to do it would be to persuade others that you're right - "the ultimate validation."
Another fascinating tidbit to note is that there isn't a huge statistical difference among Democrats, Republicans, and independents in their overall posting and use of social networks. There really isn't one group shouting into the void more than the others, so if your feed looks one-sided, it's likely because of where you're from, where you went to school, where you work, or a combination of those cultural touchstones.
So, whether it's social acceptance, a proclivity for oversharing, or anxiety, the reasons behind political posts are plentiful. And whether you love them or hate them on your own feeds, there's always options to block the noise or unfollow the poster.
The real question now is: what will you post?