The Polarizing Effect of Incivility in the Political Blog Commentsphere
Posted: 2 Sep 2013 Last revised: 28 Sep 2016
Date Written: 2013
As more and more Americans replace traditional news sources with new media news sources, there is reasonable concern regarding the effects. One common concern is the potential for increased political polarization. Scholars worry primarily about media consumers’ tendency to read likeminded partisan views on-line. Ultimately, a diet of one-sided information and perspective likely causes many to become more extreme and certain in their views. To combat these normative ill-effects, it is recommended that individuals read Internet news (or other new media content) from across the political spectrum. While an intuitive solution to problems associated with Internet “echo chambers,” cross-cutting exposure in a new media context may also cause readers to polarize based on their partisan or ideological predispositions. Motivated reasoning theory suggests that, in a hyper-partisan environment, exposure to oppositional viewpoints will not persuade and may even lead to boomerang effects. In addition, theories related to social identity and emotion suggest that the seemingly ubiquitous incivility associated with political blogs and other news sites on the Web has even greater potential to polarize readers. To examine these claims, I draw on data from an experiment in which participants were randomly assigned to read civil or uncivil (or both) partisan content from political blogs. The topic of the blog conversations represented in the study is the federal sequester, a topic that has spurred much partisan vitriol. Overall, the data suggest that much blog content polarizes readers along partisan and ideological lines and that uncivil comments are especially able to do so.
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