Timo Dobbrick, Julia Jakob, Hartmut Wessler
The (De)civilizing Impact of an Inclusive Actor Set in News Articles on Associated User Debates

Three-Country Conference on Communication Science - DACH 21, (virtual conference), April 07th to April 09th, 2021

Online incivility has found its way into the mainstream. Searching for strategies to counter this development, research has focused on the mitigating effects of moderation or user identification. When people comment on articles in the website comment sections or on the Facebook pages of media outlets, content-related properties of the news can influence the incivility of these discussions. This study is among the first to investigate how deliberative attributes of an article influence the style of user-generated debates. It asks whether the inclusion of diverse actors in an article triggers more "toxic outrage" in online discussions and which actors may have a moderating influence. The findings suggest that toxic outrage in user comments is driven specifically by political controversy in the article. Few types of actors actually have a moderating influence on the style of online debates. This is particularly unexpected for periphery actors such as civil society groups or citizens whose inclusion into political discourses is highly valued by deliberative theory.