Social Media in the Aftermath of the 2016 US Presidential Election: Disruption at the Cost of Connection




Social Media, Cognitive Warfare, Disinformation, international relationships, Influence operations, Facebook


This data captures people’s experiences as unknowing targets of disinformation. Participants were US citizens naive to the actions of the different entities using social media to target Americans with disinformation in the months leading up to the 2016 US presidential election. Results indicated participants reported notable changes in their interactions on social media in the form of disruptions to existing relationships. Specifically, participants reported that they argued with their connections more, observed others disagree more, and reported an increase in the loss of friends and family connections through the unfriending or unfollowing features of social media. While, some participants found these changes amusing, most reported increased psychological distress. Not one participant mentioned Russian election interference or disinformation as the cause of these interpersonal difficulties. Analysis of text responses did not include any mention of disinformation, Cambridge Analytica, or Russia as causes of these disruptions. These results suggest that social media use has implications for individuals’ social relationships and these disruptions may impact their psychological functioning. Implications of these results for the psychological impacts of social media use will be discussed.

Author Biographies

Rosanna Guadagno, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland

Rosanna Guadagno, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Persuasive Information Systems at the University of Oulu, Finland. She previously taught at Stanford University and Directed the Information Warfare Working Group. She studies Social Influence Processes in Digital Media. She authored the book Psychological Processes in Social Media: Why We Click.

Alberto Olivieri, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland

Alberto Federico Olivieri is a Doctoral researcher at the University of Oulu. His current research focuses on disinformation, culture, and digital tools, with a specialization in Russian Information Operations. He previously worked as a Research Assistant for the University of Amsterdam, UMICH, Harvard Kennedy School, and LUISS University.

Amanda Kimbrough, Instagram, Dallas, TX, USA

Amanda M. Kimbrough, is a Senior User Experience Researcher at Instagram studying the behavior and needs of content creators. She previously worked as a User Experience researcher at Hilton and attended graduate school at the University of Texas at Dallas and the University of Alabama.