How Tolerance for Incivility Affects Political Participation

Mon, 2017-08-14

by Alexis Blue | University of Arizona 

The internet can be a Wild West where anything goes, especially when it comes to what people say to one another. Indeed, scrolling through an online comments section can provide a glimpse into how ruthless — sometimes downright mean — people can be.

With incivility in American public and political discourse increasingly in the spotlight, Justin Knoll, a sociology doctoral student at the University of Arizona, wondered if people's tolerance to incivility impacts the degree to which they participate in politics, especially online.  

He found that it does, at least in college students, with those who are highly tolerant to incivility much more likely to engage in behaviors such as commenting on political news stories online, engaging in online political discussions, expressing support on social media for political candidates or issues, and even donating money to a candidate's campaign.

"We know, anecdotally, that communication on the internet can be nasty. It's anonymous, people say whatever they want to say, they do whatever they want to do and don't necessarily think about the consequences," said Knoll, who will present his findings at the American Sociological Association's annual meeting in Montreal this week.

"I was curious how that affects the way we choose to participate online, as online participation becomes this new avenue through which we communicate with our politicians, and they communicate with us," Knoll said.