Engaging with COVID-19 content on social media in the United States: Does political affiliation matter?





social media use, social media, user participation, Digital Inequality, political affiliation


While the partisanship of U.S. media outlets is well documented, the role of political affiliation in social media adoption and online discussions is much less studied. Social media allow individuals to contribute to the dissemination of information. As a result, understanding the relationship between political affiliation and content-sharing behaviors provides insight into whose voices are represented in social media content. Political affiliation might be particularly pertinent to engagement with politically charged topics, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. This paper uses survey data collected in Spring 2020 to examine the role of political affiliation in both social media adoption and content sharing about COVID-19 on three platforms: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Subsequently, we look at how these factors relate to COVID-19 knowledge, an important outcome with broader health implications. We find that political affiliation relates to both site adoption and sharing on the platforms, but these are not uniform across all three platforms. We find no connection between political affiliation and knowledge about the virus but we do find that content sharing on two of the examined platforms is negatively related to knowledge. This work has larger implications for other contexts where polarized and politicized arguments take place, such as climate change and other contentious topics as it concerns both whose voices are heard in these discourses as well as what people can take away from engaging with content.

Author Biographies

Jaelle Fuchs, University of Zurich

Jaelle Fuchs is a PhD candidate and a research and teaching assistant at the Department of Communication and Media Research of the University of Zurich. She is a member of the Internet Use and Society Division. Her research interests include online participation and digital inequality.

Floor Fiers, Northwestern University

Floor Fiers is a Ph.D. candidate in the Media, Technology, and Society program at Northwestern University and a member of the Community Data Science Collective. She is interested in social inequality and user agency as it relates to digital technologies, particularly in the context of the gig economy and other digitally mediated work environments.

Eszter Hargittai, University of Zurich

Eszter Hargittai is a professor of communication and media research and holds the Chair in Internet Use and Society at the University of Zurich. Her research interests include digital inequality with a particular focus on how people’s Internet skills relate to what they do online.




How to Cite

Fuchs, J., Fiers, F., & Hargittai, E. (2023). Engaging with COVID-19 content on social media in the United States: Does political affiliation matter?. First Monday, 28(11). https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v28i11.13289