How to make friends within polarization? The effect of political perceptions of profile images on social media

27 August 2023, Version 1
This content is an early or alternative research output and has not been peer-reviewed at the time of posting.


This paper verifies if social media users may follow or befriend others according to their perception of political ideology based on profile pictures. It consists of two studies involving 375 subjects in Brazil, between 2018 and 2022, a period of increasing political polarization and institutional crisis following the impeachment of a left-wing president and the election of a right-wing populist president. Having as stimuli the profile pictures of 240 young candidates for the Chamber of Deputies of Brazil, participants chose which ones they would befriend on social media. Political perceptions were the strongest predictor of making friends and could double the odds of friendship if the picture was perceived as left-wing. Candidates get more friends when the perceptions are accurate, demonstrating the incentives for people to signal more political cues on social media. Yet extremist attitudes decrease the likelihood of making new friends.


political homophily
social media


Comments are not moderated before they are posted, but they can be removed by the site moderators if they are found to be in contravention of our Commenting Policy [opens in a new tab] - please read this policy before you post. Comments should be used for scholarly discussion of the content in question. You can find more information about how to use the commenting feature here [opens in a new tab] .
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy [opens in a new tab] and Terms of Service [opens in a new tab] apply.