Mainstream Marginalization: Secret Political Organizing Through Social Media

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Scholars have addressed how the socially marginalized, individuals with fringe viewpoints, or the politically marginalized in authoritarian regimes use social media to organize or connect in secret. Yet intensifying partisan polarization and prejudice in the United States has made it necessary to study how mainstream partisans in liberal democracies use social media to organize in secret. This study explores why mainstream partisans in the United States—average Republicans or Democrats—organize in secret online and analyzes the unique functions of social media for political organizing amid contextual marginalization. Through interviews with group leaders and a digital ethnography of a secret Facebook group in the United States, I find that mainstream partisans use social media to form secret political groups when they are the minority in their local community and that the online secret group serves several unique functions for members. First, the group operates as a community of solidarity for those reticent to disclose their political beliefs and as a community of contention to criticize and revitalize the minority Party in their region. The group also operates as a community of practice, allowing members to learn and rehearse communication among like-minded others. These findings hold implications for how scholars study communication in a digital and polarized era and how practitioners gauge public opinion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalSocial Media and Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2020


  • ethnography
  • in-depth interviews
  • politics
  • social media

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Communication
  • Computer Science Applications


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