Incivility in comparison: how context, content and personal characteristics predict exposure to uncivil content

Abstract

Incivility, i.e., the breaking of social norms of conversation, is evidently prevalent in online political communication. While a growing literature provides evidence on the prevalence of incivility in different online venues, it is still unclear where and to what extent internet users are exposed to incivility. This paper takes a comparative approach to assess the levels of incivility across contexts, content and personal characteristics. The pre-registered analysis uses detailed web browsing histories, including public Facebook posts and tweets seen by study participants, in combination with surveys collected during the German federal election 2021 (N=739). The level of incivility is predicted using Google’s Perspective API and compared across contexts (platforms and campaign periods), content features and individual-level variables. The findings show that incivility is particularly strong on Twitter and more prevalent in comments than original posts/tweets on Facebook and Twitter. Content featuring political content and actors is more uncivil, whereas personal characteristics are less relevant predictors. The finding that user-generated political content is the most likely source of individuals' exposure to incivility adds to the understanding of social media’s impact on public discourse.

Publication
Social Science Computer Review