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Civility 2.0: a comparative analysis of incivility in online political discussion

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In an effort to clean up user comment sections, news organizations have turned to Facebook, the world's largest social network site, as a way to make users more identifiable and accountable for the content they produce. It is hypothesized that users leaving comments via their Facebook profile will be less likely to engage in uncivil and impolite discussion, even when it comes to discussing politically sensitive and potentially divisive issues. By analysing the content of discussion as it occurs in response to political news content on the Washington Post Facebook, and comparing it to that which occurs on the Washington Post website where users are afforded a relatively high level of anonymity, the present study determines the extent to which Facebook increases the level of civility and impoliteness in an area of political discussion renowned for uncivil and impolite communicative behaviour. In line with earlier theories of social interaction, the paper finds that political discussion on The Washington Post website is significantly more likely to be uncivil than discussion of the same content on the Washington Post Facebook page. Moreover, the incivility and impoliteness on the Washington Post website are significantly more likely to be directed towards other participants in the discussion compared to The Washington Post Facebook page.
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Keywords: Facebook; accountability; anonymity; incivility; political discussion

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Politics and International Relations, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NX, UK

Publication date: February 1, 2015

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