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Strength of Latino identity linked to social media political expression

Friday, September 06, 2019

LAWRENCE – If you want to increase Latino Americans’ traditionally low levels of social media expression and political participation, you would do well to increase their belief that as Latinos, they share common characteristics and experiences.

That is the implication of a new study by a group of University of Kansas researchers.

Assistant Professor Alcides Velasquez and Professor Jeffrey Hall of the Department of Communication Studies co-wrote the paper along with former graduate student Gretchen Montgomery. It was published in the July issue of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication under the title “Ethnic Minorities’ Social Media Political Use: How Intergroup Identification, Selective Exposure and Collective Efficacy Shape Social Media Political Expression.

This is the latest in a series of studies Velasquez has conducted to identify the causes and effects of Latino social media political expression.

“In this study we wanted to know what drives Latinos to talk about politics on social media,” Velasquez said. They surveyed 600 people representative of the U.S. Hispanic population regarding their expression of political opinions about immigration and Latino culture online.

The study contrasted two aspects of ingroup identity – self-investment and self-definition – as likely motivators of online expression.

Self-investment is the perception that you have strong ties with other members of your group and you feel good about yourself as a member of the group. In contrast, self-definition is how much you have in common with other members of the group, or that you feel a sense of a shared experience among group members. While self-investment implies a degree of choice, self-definition is more intrinsic.

“The form of group identification that best explained online political expression was group self-definition,” Velasquez said. “When Latinos felt they themselves were prototypical members of their community – that Latinos share a lot in common with one another – they expressed their views more often through social media.

“Social media enable displays of ethnic identity, which also feeds perceptions of a linked fate among them,” Velasquez said.

The study also revealed that “the perception of commonality drives Latinos to seek out information online that is consistent with their own views about immigration, which they then share through social media,” he said.

Thus, Velasquez said, “If you want to foster Latinos’ political expression on social media, you need to induce perceptions that they share many characteristics, and each of them is a prototypical member of the group.”

The question then becomes, “How does one make people feel that they have a lot in common?”

“On social media, it could be content emphasizing similarities and common traits among Latinos, like a common language, experiences about immigrating or stories about what it is like to live in the U.S. as an ethnic minority, as well as what distinguishes Latinos from other ethnic and racial groups,” he said.

Understanding online political expression is important, especially for under-represented minorities, because other studies have shown that social media political expression leads to political participation. By highlighting Hispanic Americans’ commonality and shared experiences, he said, “you will get more social media expression and, theoretically, more political participation."

Top photo: Pexels stock photo. Credit: Pixabay

Photos at right: Assistant Professor Alcides Velasquez and Professor Jeffrey Hall of the Department of Communication Studies.