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The influence of social media and individual political opinions on perceptions of police
Although ample research exists on perceptions of police, very little research includes social media as a relevant variable. This study examined the connections between police-related social media posts, individual political opinions, network homogeneity, and perceptions of police. A total of 708 useable responses were collected. Surveys used consisted of questions from the Right-Wing Authoritarianism Scale (RWA), a personal demographics and social media use questionnaire, and the Perceptions of Police Scale (POPs). A Pearson’s correlational analysis supported the first hypothesis that scores on the Right-Wing Authoritarianism Scale would be positively correlated with scores on the Perceptions of Police Scale. Multiple regression analyses revealed that positive perceptions of police were predicted by viewing more positive police-related posts overall, the most recent police-related post being positive, and older participant age. It was hypothesized that network homogeneity would moderate the relationship between Right-Wing Authoritarianism scores and Perceptions of Police Scores; however, this hypothesis was not supported by the PROCESS macro used to test it. Results implicate that the overall nature of social media posts viewed online as well as individual political opinions can significantly influence individuals’ perceptions of police. This information should be used to improve the police-public relationship and inform future work. Future research should expand on social media’s influence on perceptions of police by looking at different types or aspects of social media (i.e., social media algorithms or police department-run social media pages).