Julia Jakob, Timo Dobbrick, Patrik Haffner, Hartmut Wessler
What Facilitates Constructive Engagement? A Dictionary-Based Comparison of Outrage and Recognition Across Online Platforms

70th Annual International Communication Association Conference, (virtual conference), 20. bis 26. Mai 2020

This paper examines the style of user-generated debate on the divisive issue of the public role of religion and secularism in the US. In a dictionary-based comparison, we measure both outrage and recognition in comments on news websites, Facebook news pages, Facebook pages of partisan actors and alternative media, as well as on Twitter. To our knowledge, this is the first attempt to explicitly capture both negative and positive dimensions of mediated debate by computational means. Our results show that the style of user-generated debate is more outrageous and less recognitive on platforms which mix public and private contexts (Facebook) than on those which separate the two. Furthermore, we find that the style is more outrageous and less recognitive in issue-driven debates that evolve pluralistically around contentious issues (news websites & Facebook news pages) than in preference-driven discussions that bring together like-minded people. The findings indicate that separated contexts can foster constructive engagement among users and confirm that pluralistic debates are marked considerably by rude behavior. Future research should identify effective strategies to counter such negative tendencies and systematically compare the style of user-generated discourse across countries.