Maria Petrova, Universitat Pompeu Fabre

"Socializing Alone: How Online Homophily Has Undermined Social Cohesion in the US"


Online social networks have changed how people interact across large distances. We examine the long-run effect of a key feature of these networks - online homophily - on interpersonal interactions in local communities. Using Facebook data, we measure online homophily across counties in the United States. To identify effects, we exploit a conflict between Facebook and Google over data sharing of user information in the early expansion phase of Facebook, which induced persistent variation in online homophily across counties. We find evidence that homophilic connections made people use Facebook more often but socialize less offline, as measured through bar, restaurant, and live sports events visits. This had a negative effect on local social capital, by making individuals less connected across income strata. Political opinions within counties became more diverse, with a lowered probability that two voters in a county support the same political party. Overall, our results indicate that when a natural demand for connecting with socially similar people is met by the supply of a ‘death-of-distance’ technology, it comes at the cost of social cohesion at the local level.

Maria Petrova received her PhD from Harvard University in 2008. She spent 2012 - 2013 as a Visiting Associate Research Scholar at the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics at Princeton University. Her research interests include political economy, mass media economics, and corporate governance.

Maria Petrova got a European Research Council Starting Grant for a five-year project EXTREME ("The Rise and Fall of Populism and Extremism") for 2019-2024.

You can read more about Maria Petrova here

CEBI contact: Ekaterina Travova