Monday, June 30, 2014

Research on online incivility challenges some stereotypes

For the final entry in June about this month's Nablopomo theme of comment, I present this research that I included in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Gliese 832c) about uncivil comments to online news articles from the University of Utah, which asks Are You Guilty of Posting Rude Comments to Online News Sites?
New study confirms that uncivil behavior is common online, but its sources challenge stereotypes

June 26, 2014 – Anyone who’s ever ventured into the comments section of a news website has likely observed some unfriendly exchanges. Now research from the University of Utah and the University of Arizona has confirmed just how common such behavior is.

In a new study published in the Journal of Communication, researchers analyzed more than 6,400 reader comments posted to the website of the Arizona Daily Star, the major daily newspaper in Tucson, Arizona. They found that more than 1 in 5 comments included some form of incivility, with name-calling as the most prevalent type.

“We tracked six different kinds of uncivil language, but name-calling was far and away the most common,” said Kevin Coe, assistant professor of communication 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 else.”

The study also showed that these types of commenters do not fit the stereotype of a few angry individuals who spend hours at their computers blasting others and making baseless claims. In fact, incivility was more common among infrequent commenters. Equally surprising, uncivil commenters were just as likely to use evidence in support of their claims as were the more respectful individuals.
The study explains why the more frequent commenters might be more civil than the infrequent ones later.  Follow over the jump for the rest of the press release to find where that explanation might be.

The two topics that elicit the most incivility should come as no surprise to anyone who reads news online and bothers to look at the comments.
As might be expected, stories that focused on well-known leaders with clear partisan positions garnered more impolite comments. In stories that quoted President Barack Obama, for example, nearly 1 in 3 comments were uncivil.

Disrespectful comments also tended to spike in discussions about weightier issues, such as politics, the economy, crime and taxes. The one exception to this trend was sports articles, which generated the highest percentage of these types of comments.

“Being a sports fan myself, this didn’t surprise me,” said Coe. “Honestly, the only online incivility I’ve ever been guilty of was probably sports-related.”

The researchers noted one cause for optimism in their findings. When one commenter was directly replying to another commenter, they were more likely to be courteous.

“We tend to be more respectful in our public discourse when we recognize other citizens’ perspectives, even when we do not agree with them,” noted Kate Kenski, associate professor of communication at the University of Arizona and co-author of the study. “When we quote others participating in an online discussion, we tend to focus on their arguments, not on personal attributions, which makes the conversation more civil.”
That's good advice.  It's also the reason in the paper why frequent commenters may be more civil than infrequent ones; they don't get to know the rest of the participants in the comments section.  The other is that the frequent commenters may just be the ones who survive moderation.  The infrequent ones who are uncivil get bounced.

One more item to note.
The study 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.
The National Institute for Civil Discourse has shown up twice before at Crazy Eddie's Motie News, first in Universities studying and promoting civility in politics and again in The psychology of campaign ads plus a bad sign for representative democracy.  Also, the topic of civil discourse made a cameo in Election news from campuses in the swing states.  In the first entry of the three, I wrote that I was encouraged by the interest in civil discourse.  Now I can see why people want to encourage it; it's a rare commodity.

That's it for June.  On to July!

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