Does Civility Matter in the Blogosphere? Examining the

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Does Civility Matter in the Blogosphere? Examining the

Postby admin » Tue Dec 03, 2013 8:48 pm

DOES CIVILITY MATTER IN THE BLOGOSPHERE? EXAMINING THE INTERACTION EFFECTS OF INCIVILITY AND DISAGREEMENT ON CITIZEN ATTITUDES
by Hyunseo Hwang, Porismita Borah, Kang Namkoong, Aaron S. Veenstra

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Presented at the annual convention of the International Communication Association May 22-26, 2008, in Montréal

Table of Contents:

Abstract
Does Civility Matter in the Blogosphere? Examining the Interaction Effects of Incivility and Disagreement on Citizen Attitudes
Incivility and Online Discourse
Contingent condition: counter-attitudinal communication
Hypotheses
Methods
Design and Procedure
Measurement
Results
Interaction effects between incivility and ideological incongruence
Testing the role of negative emotions in mediating interaction effects
Discussion
Limitations
Implications
References
Table 1. Regression analyses for experimental effects on DVs and mediating effects of negative emotion
Figure 1. Interaction pattern between incivility and ideological incongruence influencing on negative emotion
Figure 2. Interaction pattern between incivility and ideological incongruence influencing on open-mindedness
Figure 3. Interaction pattern between incivility and ideological incongruence influencing on attitude certainty
Figure 4. Interaction pattern between incivility and ideological incongruence influencing on willingness to talk with the other side.
Appendix 1. News story on global warming
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Re: Does Civility Matter in the Blogosphere? Examining the

Postby admin » Tue Dec 03, 2013 8:49 pm

Abstract

Previous research has addressed problems of incivility in traditional media setting as well as interpersonal communication. However, the growing readership of partisan-based political blogs and recent concerns about nasty blogs calls for research attention on how bloggers’ tone of expressing disagreement influence readers’ emotional reactions and their attitudes toward political disagreement. Accordingly, this study examines how readers react to uncivil blog commentary, as a function of whether or not they identify as a member of the party that the partisan blogger is critiquing. Results generally support scholars’ concerns about detrimental effects of incivility especially when the blogger attacked views consistent with the participants’ position.
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Re: Does Civility Matter in the Blogosphere? Examining the

Postby admin » Tue Dec 03, 2013 8:49 pm

Does Civility Matter in the Blogosphere? Examining the Interaction Effects of Incivility and Disagreement on Citizen Attitudes

Political blogs occupy an increasingly important place in American politics. Although audiences for political blogs represent a minority of Americans, their numbers are growing. During the 2006 election season, 20 percent of those seeking campaign information online turned to political blogs as sources (Rainie & Horrigan, 2007). The growing readership for these specialized, often partisan information channels—and the increased ease with which they allow readers to self-select information sources that often biased for their political stands—has heightened fears of an ever-more polarized and fragmented electorate (Adamic, 2001; Mutz & Martin, 2001; Sunstein, 2001).

Coupling with concerns about the Internet effect on political polarization, critiques on political blog discourse also warn about its tendency toward incivility when expressing disagreement. This may have important consequences among blog readers, who encounter the disrespectful or dismissive tone directed at the subjects of political commentary. This has prompted some to call for the development of rudimentary guidelines for what type of discussion is appropriate in blogs (O'Reilly, 2007). In fact, recent empirical research has found that televised incivility increases attention to political exchanges while simultaneously decreasing political legitimacy (Mutz & Reeves, 2005). In the similar line, deliberation theorists and scholars has maintained that citizens’ civil attitudes such as being empathic, egalitarian, and open-minded to diverse view points are necessary conditions for political talk to produce a variety of positive democratic outcomes (Barber, 1984; Benhabib, 1996; Bohman, 1996; Chambers, 1996; Cohen, 1989; Gutmann & Thompson, 1996; Mansbridge, 1983, 1996; Warren, 1992, 1996).

Although problems of incivility have been discussed and studied in interpersonal or traditional mass communication setting, the growing readership for partisan-based political blogs and recent concerns about nasty blogs calls for research attention on how bloggers’ tone of expressing disagreement influences on readers’ emotional reactions and their attitudes toward political disagreement. Accordingly, this study examines how readers react to uncivil blog commentary, as a function of whether or not they identify as a member of the party that the partisan blogger is critiquing. Specifically, we experimentally manipulate the tone of a blogger’s interpretation of a balanced mainstream news story and the blogger’s partisanship to examine the effects on readers’ emotional reactions and attitudes toward political disagreement.
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Re: Does Civility Matter in the Blogosphere? Examining the

Postby admin » Tue Dec 03, 2013 8:50 pm

Incivility and Online Discourse

Both positive and negative messages are common in political discourse. Increasingly, political discourse has gone beyond just positive and negative information to exchanges that are “excessively harsh”. This crossing of the proverbial line takes political discourse beyond “negativity” to what can be termed as “incivility” (Brooks and Geer, 2007). Incivility can be defined as attacks that go beyond facts and differences to “name-calling, contempt, and derision of the opposition” (Brooks and Geer, 2007, p. 1).

Concern about the tone of discussion on the Internet has existed before the Internet even seemed to have potential as a mass communication medium (Talmadge, 1987). “Flaming” and other kinds of uncivil interaction may now be considered part and parcel of online discourse, but research into the effects of incivility encompasses mediated communication both online and off.

Modern western society has a very strong norm favoring politeness, and that norm isn’t put on hold when people communicate through the media (Brown & Levinson, 1987). The increasing presence of uncivil disputes in media – often broadcast live campaign stops, TV studios and the halls of Congress – has created a news landscape in which one’s perception of political discourse may be dramatically worsening (Uslaner, 1993), even if the actual civility of political actors hasn’t declined (Altschuler & Blumin, 2001). Kingwell (1995) explains this norm as representing a show of mutual respect between conflicting parties, and thus breaking the politeness norm leads to the generation of negative affect. When encountering uncivil behavior in everyday life, people tend to respond with anger upon receiving uncivil communication, and indifference when observing it as a third party (Phillips & Smith, 2004).

Uncivil online discussion and flaming, in particular, are associated with negative affective responses in Internet users, including heavy and long-term users (King, 2001), though flaming itself may be an adaptive act meant to facilitate argumentation within the constraints of Internet fora (Weger & Aakhus, 2003). Flaming in a public setting may actually increase the tendency towards deliberation within a discussion group by providing the opportunity for discussion norms to be reasserted.

Indeed, Papacharissi (2004) notes that what might be called “uncivil” in some traditional venues can actually have a liberating and pro-democratic effect online (Lyotard, 1984). Subsequent research has found that, although it colors perceptions about discussants who use it, exposure to incivility does not affect individuals’ intentions to participate (Ng & Detenber, 2005). Exposure to uncivil online discussion may at times lead to withdrawal from the group, but may also lead to shows of solidarity (Lee, 2005), and may also impact both subsequent opinion formation and opinion expression (Price, Nir, & Cappella, 2006). Because of this, we should expect one’s judgments about a blogger’s comments – an internal component of the deliberative process – to be colored by the emotional reaction one has to that blogger’s tone.

Placing this perception of disrespect in the context of televised political commentary, an experimental study showed that uncivil exchanges among politicians in televised debate significantly decrease viewers’ trust in politicians, Congress, and system of government (Mutz & Reeves, 2005). However, an experimental study of Brooks and Geer (2007) suggests that uncivil attack in political ads may not have detrimental effects on citizens’ mind even have some beneficial effects. In their study, Brooks and Geer (2007) found that uncivil political ads did not have significant effects on political trust, while they had some positive effects on political engagement, although uncivil political ads are seen as less informative and less fair.

Such mixed findings might be partially due to differences in settings of the two studies. For example, the study of Brooks and Geer (2007) eliminate partisan cues in order to examine pure effects of incivility. However, lack of partisan cues can minimize incivility effects because target of uncivil attack is not clear to receivers. In fact, previous research on the effect of uncivil expression in interpersonal relationship setting has consistently shown that verbal attack targeting on the self produces consistent and strong negative reactions (see, Kinney & Segrin, 1998). For example, at work setting, Cox (1987, 1991a, 1991b) found that nurses exposed to verbally abusive doctors and supervisors reported feeling angry and powerless and dissatisfied with their jobs. In the context of close relationship, such as spouses and family members, verbal aggression is linked to depression and aggressiveness (Segrin & Fitzpatrick, 1992; Kashani et al., 1988; Vissing et al., 1999). Experimental studies also provide empirical evidences that verbal aggression produces a rage of negative reactions. For example, when research participants were insulted by a confederate, they reported strong feeling of angry and showed aggressive reactions (Gambaro & Rabin, 1969; Gentry, 1970, 1972; Hokanson, 1961; Rule & Hevitt, 1971).

In sum, research on effects of verbal attack in interpersonal communication setting suggest that potential effects of uncivil attack on negative reactions are largely dependent upon who is the target of attack. Specifically, uncivil attacks can produce vivid detrimental effects when the attacks target on the self.
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Re: Does Civility Matter in the Blogosphere? Examining the

Postby admin » Tue Dec 03, 2013 8:50 pm

Contingent condition: counter-attitudinal communication

As we discussed before, detrimental effects of uncivil attack can be moderated by the target of attacking message. In this sense, message congruence might be an important contingent factor for determining characteristics and level of incivility effects. That is, message dissonance from one’s own position may moderate effects of incivility on receivers’ negative reactions. In fact, prior research shows that exposure to dissonant views may produce detrimental effects on citizens’ socio-relational attitudes. For example, research on resistance to persuasion shows that people tend to regard counter-attitudinal information as a threat to their personal identity, and thus, tend to show negative reactions to the information, especially when they have strong commitment on their attitudes (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993). Research on thought-induced polarization also shows that merely thinking about an attitude causes that attitude to polarize or become more extreme (see Tesser, 1978; Tesser, Martin, & Mendolia, 1995). These studies suggest that exposure to conflicting views may produce negative attitudes toward those who have conflicting views and intolerance toward the oppositional views because counter attitudinal communication may enhance feeling of threat and induce more extreme attitudes.

Given that source incredibility and low message quality generally decrease message persuasion (see Eagly & Chaiken, 1993) and that uncivil expression tend to increase source incredibility and negative evaluations of message (Ng & Detenber, 2005), uncivil attacking in counter-attitudinal messages might be a optimal setting producing resistance to persuasion including negative reactions to persuasive communication. In fact, some studies on campaign ads show that negative campaign advertising may also produce unintended effects, such as backlash against its sponsoring candidate. Garramone (1984) dubbed this unintended effect “boomerang effect.” According to him, “negative political advertising may achieve its intended effects, but it may also produce boomerang effects. A strong attack on a candidate, if perceived by the audience as untruthful, undocumented, or in any way unjustified, may create more negative feelings toward the sponsor, rather than the target (p. 251).”
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Re: Does Civility Matter in the Blogosphere? Examining the

Postby admin » Tue Dec 03, 2013 8:51 pm

Hypotheses

As we discussed before, detrimental effects of uncivil attack may be confined to when the attack is directed to position the receiver advocates. Along this line, research on the role of attitude strength in counter-attitudinal communication has shown that individuals with strong commitment on an attitude tend to react negatively to persuasion regarding the attitude (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993). Thus, we expected that incivility effects would differ between ideologically congruent and incongruent blogger’s commentary. As research on resistance to persuasion suggest, we expected that counter-attitudinal argumentations with uncivil tone may be seen as a threat to the self because one’s opinions have been incorporated in one’s self concept, resulting in greater negative emotional reactions, less open-minded, less complex reasoning and competitive or even retaliatory behavior (De Dreu & van Knippenberg, 2005). Thus, we set the following four hypotheses to interaction effects between incivility and ideological congruence on readers’ emotions and attitudes:

H1: Exposure to uncivil commentary of blogger would significantly increase negative emotions than exposure to civil commentary among participants in ideological incongruence condition, while this difference would not be found among participants exposed to ideologically congruent commentary.

H2: Exposure to uncivil commentary of blogger would significantly decrease participants’ open-mindedness than exposure to civil commentary among those in ideological incongruence condition, while this difference would not be found among those exposed to ideologically congruent commentary.

H3: Exposure to uncivil commentary of blogger would significantly increase participants’ attitude certainty than exposure to civil commentary among those in ideological incongruence condition, while this difference would not be found among those exposed to ideologically congruent commentary.

H4. Exposure to uncivil commentary of blogger would significantly decrease participants’ willingness to talk with the other side than exposure to civil commentary among those in ideological incongruence condition, while this difference would not be found among those exposed to ideologically congruent commentary.

A crucial indicator of whether these negative reactions to persuasive message have occurred is the immediate effect of such exposure on one’s affective reactions to the message. Strong negative emotions resulting from exposure to uncivil counter-attitudinal communication indicate an ego-defensive response, instead of a deliberative or open-minded response. In this sense, we expected immediate negative emotional reactions to uncivil and ideologically incongruent blogger’s commentary is a key mediator to influence more general ego-defensive reactions such as open-mindedness, attitude polarization, and avoidance of talking with the other side. Thus, three hypotheses were established to test meditative role of negative emotions in interaction effects between incivility and ideological incongruence:

H5: Negative emotions would mediate the interaction effects between incivility and ideological incongruence on open-mindedness.

H6: Negative emotions would mediate the interaction effects between incivility and ideological incongruence on attitude certainty.

H7: Negative emotions would mediate the interaction effects between incivility and ideological incongruence on willingness to talk with the other side.
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Re: Does Civility Matter in the Blogosphere? Examining the

Postby admin » Tue Dec 03, 2013 8:51 pm

Methods

Our hypotheses were tested in an experiment embedded in a web survey in which participants viewed a fictitious news story about global climate change policy accompanied by commentary from a fictitious political blogger. Participants were undergraduate students at a large Midwestern University. Students received extra credit for their participation. The study (N=877) was fielded in April and May 2007.
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Re: Does Civility Matter in the Blogosphere? Examining the

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Design and procedure

The study used a 2 (civil vs. uncivil tone) x 2 (ideological congruence) between-subjects design, where civility of tone was manipulated and ideological congruence was measured based on whether or not participants viewed messages that “matched” their political ideology. Respondents read a news story about global climate change policy, which was written to emulate journalistic practice by providing a balanced summary of two positions on climate change policy. The article described both a liberal policy position for addressing climate change, endorsing mandatory caps on emissions, as well as a contrasting conservative position, supporting voluntary emissions reductions and technological innovation by industry (see Appendix 1 for full text of the news story). The news story was attributed to the Associated Press. The content of the news story remained consistent across all experimental conditions.

In order to replicate conditions under which mainstream news content would be reproduced in full, but also co-located with opinionated information content, we embedded the policy news story in a post on a fictitious web blog authored by a blogger named “Curt.” The blog commentary was written to critique either the conservative or liberal policy positions as represented in the news story. Therefore, the ideological incongruence condition was created by comparing participants’ reported political party identifications with the ideology of the blogger’s critique. Participants who reported Democrat affiliation and viewed blogger commentary critiquing the conservative position on global warming policy were in the ideologically congruent condition, as were Republican participants who read blog critiques of liberal policy. Republicans who read critiques of the conservative position and Democrats who viewed critiques of the liberal position were considered to be in the ideologically incongruent condition. Participants who reported either “Independent” affiliation or affiliation with a third party were excluded from the analysis.

To produce the tone conditions, we manipulated whether the blogger’s commentary included civil or uncivil references to the other side of the debate (Brooks & Geer, 2007). In the civil condition, the critique of the news story maintained a respectful tone (i.e., “Democrats often criticize Bush for renouncing the Kyoto Protocol, but they fail to recognize that most of the signing nations have failed to live up to the promises of the accord.”). In the uncivil condition, while the argument remained the same, the blogger used derogatory terms and insulting language when referring to opponents of the blogger’s position (i.e., “Democrat whiners often criticize Bush for renouncing the Kyoto Protocol, but they can't seem to get it through their thick skulls that most of the signing nations have failed to live up to the misguided promises of the accord.”).
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Re: Does Civility Matter in the Blogosphere? Examining the

Postby admin » Tue Dec 03, 2013 8:52 pm

Measurement

Negative emotions. Negative emotions were measured with respondents’ indication of whether the blogger’s commentary made them feel the following five negative emotions: anger, disgust, contempt, frustration, and irritation (KR-20 =.59, M=1.77, SD=1.35).

Open-mindedness. Respondents were asked to indicate on an 11-point scale (0=strongly disagree, 10=strongly agree) their level of agreement with each of the three statements, asking how reading of blogger’s commentary affected their thoughts: (1) “I felt more open to the arguments on both sides of the issue;” (2) “I learned new things regarding this issue,” and (3) “I changed or modified my opinions about this issue.” These items were averaged into an index (M=3.87, SD=1.90, α =.72).

Attitude certainty. Attitude polarization was constructed by asking respondents’ level of agreement on the following two statements: after reading the blogger’s commentary, (1) “I felt my opinions on this issue became stronger” and “I felt more confident in my own opinion.” Both items were measured on a zero (strongly disagree) to ten (strongly agree) scale (M=5.43, SD=2.04, Inter-item correlation =.56).

Willingness to talk with the other side.. Respondents were asked to indicate their feeling about discussion with people who have opposing views on the issue by asking their level of agreement with the following two statements: (1) “I would enjoy interaction with these people” and (2) “I would find it difficult to talk with these people on the issue” (reverse coded). Both items were measured on a zero (strongly disagree) to ten (strongly agree) scale (M=4.96, SD=2.09, Inter-item correlation =.43).

Control variables. The experimental factor of blog message structure (global vs. interspersed structure) was included as a control variable in order to exclude its potential effects on the dependent variables of this study. In addition to controlling for this experimental factor, we controlled respondents’ gender (68.7% respondents were female), year in college (Median=sophomore), and ideological extremity (M=1.31, SD=.08). ). To construct ideological extremity, we first created ideological conservatism by taking the mean scores of two items (M=2.23, SD=1.33, inter-item correlation=.66) asking about respondents’ ideological orientation on a seven-point scale (0=very liberal, 6=very conservative) with regard to (1) economic issues and (2) social issues. This composite scale was recoded into a 0-3 point scale of ideological extremity by folding the scale at the midpoint (M= 1.31,
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Re: Does Civility Matter in the Blogosphere? Examining the

Postby admin » Tue Dec 03, 2013 8:52 pm

Results

To examine interaction effects of incivility and ideological incongruence in the blogger’s commentary on emotions and attitudes, we employed dummy variable regression analysis instead of Analysis of Covariance because dummy variable regression analysis provides an easy way to determine which group mean differ from the others with the t-tests of individual dummy coefficients. In addition, the regression analysis provides an efficient way to examine mediation effects.
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