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Backing Off or Ramping Up? Incivility Dynamics and Audience Feedback

Thu, August 29, 4:00 to 5:30pm, Hilton, Columbia 4

Abstract

A defining characteristic of online social interaction is that it is usually performed in front of an audience. To increase audience engagement, online platforms often let people Like or Up/Down vote comments posted by others. Yet our understanding of how such social feedback shapes and is shaped by underlying discussion dynamics is still limited. In this paper, we focus on one key aspect of online interaction: incivility. We analyze a dataset of over 6,000 online newspaper comments, each coded for five measures of incivility. We find that when uncivil comments are followed by an uncivil comment, the initial commenter tends to “back off” and become more civil in subsequent comments – unless their initial comment receives positive audience feedback, in which case they tend to “ramp up” the incivility. Moreover, though people tend to back off after encountering incivility, audiences reward its ramping up. We conclude that online incivility is a social process that is malleable to both proximate comments and audience feedback.

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