The Making and Unmaking of the Public Sphere: Outcomes of Political Disagreement, Expression Avoidance, and a Filtered Information Repertoire

  • ZHANG, Xinzhi (PI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


This project examines the extent to which social media use contributes to an informed, tolerant, and active citizenship in a media-saturated but politically polarized and fragmenting society. While the “logic of connective action” (Bennett & Segerberg 2012, p. 739) states the political implications of social media, several disconnective actions have emerged when people experience political disagreement, such as cutting off political discussion, masking their political viewpoints, or even terminating relationships (Wells et al., 2017). While digital media technologies enable people to select an information repertoire, i.e., online sources or connections from which they communicate political information (Wolfsfeld, Yarchi, & Samuel-Azran, 2016), they also create echo chambers, where like-minded people are clustering and non-like-minded people are detached. It jeopardizes a cornerstone of societal well-being and the civic culture (Almond & Verba, 1963), undermining the ability of people to communicate with people holding different viewpoints and to be aware of the rationales and arguments of others (Habermas, 1989).

This project will explain how people respond to political disagreement, such as by remaining silent, or by filtering their connections on social media, and how these online behaviors facilitate or undermine political engagement. The project starts from reviewing literature on reactions to political disagreement (Barnidge, 2017; Mutz, 2002), namely, the spiral of silence and political homophily. Then it elaborates two types of politically motivated online behaviors, namely, 1) opinion expression avoidance strategies (Hayes, 2007) and 2) information repertoire filtration (John & Dvir-Gvirsman, 2015).

The project will investigate the outcomes of these processes through indicators of an informed, tolerant, and active citizenship: 1) political knowledge, 2) political polarization, and 3) political participation. The project focuses on Hong Kong, a society with a high digital media penetration rate, which has also witnessed several controversial political events over the last two decades. Using a mixed-methods approach, the project will conduct focus group interviews to understand why and how disagreement-evoked expression avoidance strategies and information repertoire manipulation are taking place. A two-wave panel survey based on representative samples will be implemented before and after a milestone political event, i.e., the 2020 Legislative Council election. It will explore causal relationships between reactions to political disagreement and their consequences. The project aims to understand how digital media nurture a diverse public sphere, with a more open, egalitarian, reasoned, and rational discourse of deliberation (Habermas, 1989). It aims to make conceptual generalizations to other media-saturated and politically polarizing and fragmenting societies
Effective start/end date1/09/1931/08/21

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.