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Surprising Results in Online Commenting Study

NCDD has been part of an ongoing conversation about whether online comment sections can be spaces for dialogue and if there are methods or tools we can use to make those spaces more civil. One of our NCDD organizational members, the National Institute for Civil Discourse, recently released on a study on the topic that has some surprising, though not exactly encouraging, results. You can read NICD’s announcement about the study below or find the original here.


NICD_logo3A new study confirms that incivility is common on online news websites. Researchers at the University of Utah and the University of Arizona analyzed more than 6,400 reader comments posted to the website of The Arizona Daily Star, a major daily newspaper in Arizona. They found that more than 1 in 5 comments included some form of incivility, with name-calling the most prevalent type.

“We tracked six different kinds of incivility, but name-calling was by far and away the most common,” said Kevin Coe, a faculty member in the Department of Communications at the University of Utah and one of the study’s authors. “Many people just can’t seem to avoid the impulse to go after someone.”

The study also showed that incivility in comment sections does not fit the stereotype of a few angry individuals who spend hours at their computers flaming other commenters and making baseless claims. In fact, incivility was more common among infrequent commenters than frequent ones. Equally surprising, uncivil commenters were just as likely to use evidence in support of their claims as were civil commenters.

“The results of our study run counter to several popularly-held beliefs about incivility” said co-author Steve Rains from the Department of Communication at the University of Arizona. “In the comments we examined, incivility was pervasive and not simply the product of one or two individuals with an axe to grind.” As might be suspected, stories that focused on well-known leaders with clear positions garnered more uncivil comments. “Strong partisan recognition activates incivility,” said co-author Kate Kenski, an Associate Professor at the University of Arizona. “When articles quoted President Obama, incivility in the discussion comments rose significantly above the average found in other discussions.”

Like many other online news outlets, The Arizona Daily Star now requires commenters to log into a personal account on Facebook before they can comment on a story.

The study, published in the Journal of Communication, was funded by the National Institute for Civil Discourse, a nonpartisan center for advocacy, research, and policy housed at the University of Arizona. The Institute’s honorary co-chairs are former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Link to the full published study: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jcom.12104/abstract or http://nicd.arizona.edu/research-report/online-and-uncivil-patterns-and.

The original version of this post can be found at http://nicd.arizona.edu/news/national-institute-civil-discourse-announce-0.

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Roshan Bliss
An inclusiveness trainer and group process facilitator, Roshan Bliss serves as NCDD's Youth Engagement Coordinator and Blog Curator. Combining his belief that decisions are better when everyone is involved with his passion for empowering young people, his work focuses on increasing the involvement of youth and students in public conversations.

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