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Leveraging Metadata to Measure the Attention Grabbing Power of Incivility

Fri, August 31, 4:00 to 5:30pm, Marriott, Salon C


Scholars have described the seductive nature of political incivility (e.g., Hart 2011; Herbst 2010). However, although research suggests that elite political messages that incorporate incivility are more successful at drawing the attention of citizens than messages devoid of it (e.g. Mutz 2015; Berry and Sobieraj 2013; Suhay et al. 2018), this claim has not been tested directly. Using a large dataset that contains the tweets posted by elected officials’ Twitter accounts, along with the associated metadata, I aim to test this claim. Using a supervised learning program, tweets will be coded for political incivility in line with previous analyses (Gervais and Morris forthcoming; Pew Research Center 2017; Theocharis et al. 2016). Leveraging the metadata, which includes metrics such as “retweets” and “favorites,” I will test to see if elite tweets incorporating incivility receive more attention on average than tweets that do not feature incivility. In addition to providing insight into the digital media strategies of political elites, the results of this study will advance our understanding of a neglected aspect of incivility’s influence: the inclusion of incivility in messages matters not only because it can induce affective reactions (Gervais 2015, 2017; Mutz 2015), but because it may draw more attention in the first place.

Works Cited

Berry, Jeffrey M., and Sarah Sobieraj. 2013. The Outrage Industry Political Opinion Media and
the New Incivility. Oxford University Press.

Gervais, Bryan T. 2015. “Incivility Online: Affective and Behavioral Reactions to Uncivil
Political Posts in a Web-Based Experiment.” Journal of Information Technology & Politics 12(2): 167–85.

Gervais, Bryan T. 2017. “More than Mimicry? The Role of Anger in Uncivil Reactions to Elite
Political Incivility.” International Journal of Public Opinion Research 29(3): 384–405.

Gervais, Bryan T. and Irwin L. Morris. Reactionary Republicanism: How the Tea Party
in the House Paved the Way for Trump’s Victory.” Oxford University Press. (Forthcoming)

Hart, Roderick P. 2011. “The Seductions of Incivility.” Remarks presented at the Breaux
Symposium, Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs, Louisiana State University, March 29, 2011.

Herbst, Susan. 2010. Rude Democracy: Civility and Incivility in American Politics. Temple
University Press.

Mutz, Diana C. 2015. In-Your-Face Politics: The Consequences of Uncivil Media. Princeton,
New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Suhay, Elizabeth, Emily Bello-Pardo, and Brianna Maurer. 2018. “The Polarizing Effects of
Online Partisan Criticism: Evidence from Two Experiments.” The International Journal of Press/Politics 23(1): 95–115.

Theocharis, Yannis et al. 2016. “A Bad Workman Blames His Tweets: The Consequences of
Citizens’ Uncivil Twitter Use When Interacting With Party Candidates.” Journal of Communication 66(6): 1007–31.