The University of Arizona

THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR CIVIL DISCOURSE ANNOUNCES A NEW STUDY ON INCIVILITY IN ONLINE COMMENTS

June 19, 2014

Contact:  Kevin Coe

University of Utah

801-649-8197, kevin.coe@utah.edu                                                    

A 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