Chung-hong Chan, Cassius Siu-lun Chow, King-Wa Fu
Echoslamming: how incivility interacts with cyberbalkanization on the social media in Hong Kong

Asian Journal of Communication, 2019: 29, issue 4, pp. 307-327
ISSN: 0129-2986 (print); 1742-0911 (online)

Cyberbalkanization has growingly become common on the Internet and can lead to public’s opinion polarization. This study investigates a specific process of cyberbalkanization through which incivility is circulated within online communities. From a dataset of Hong Kong-based Facebook Pages collected during a social movement, a set of politically-organized communities was identified and their connectivity generated a post-sharing network. A random sample of contents shared between and within these communities was then manually classified based on the level of incivility. The targets of offence through the use of uncivil language were also coded. Contents shared within ideologically compatible communities were found to be more likely to be uncivil. The association was significantly more positive in a populistic community, of which members had unique political nature and cultural norms. The targets were usually political opponents and incivility was adopted to petition detractors from within-community discussions. We therefore suggest ‘echoslamming’ is an online phenomenon through which uncivil contents catalyse anger toward political opponents among ideologically congruent information sources and consequently reinforce the audience’s predilection. Such a mechanism can be one underlying explanation for a vicious circle of cyberbalkanization-induced polarization on political opinions.