Incivility in political online communication: types, causes, effects and interventions

In today’s society, the promise and reality of public online debates increasingly diverge. Political online communication often fails to be utilized for a fruitful and respectful exchange of opinion. Rather, political discussions in the online environment are characterized by inflammatory, vulgar and defamatory communication behavior.

Such uncivil communication behaviors have not merely consequences for individuals immediately involved in the discussions, but also might discourage citizens from taking part in political online debates at all. Hence, uncivil communication in the online context is an urgent problem. Ways must be found to identify and to counteract this incivility. Therefore, our research project pays particular attention to the central question: How can incivility in political discussions be detected, explained and resolved?

The objectives of the project are to create (1) an empirically based typology of incivility, (2) an empirically tested model for deviant communicative behavior and (3) a graduated and reliable instrument in order to intervene in different online contexts. The central question will be analyzed in two interconnected PhD projects. The dissertation in communication science aims at examining which types of uncivil behavior can be identified and which interventions are able to promote civility and to counteract incivility in political online communication. The dissertation with a media-psychological focus addresses the motives and the effects of uncivil behavior. Based on these interdisciplinary findings, courses of action for a more civilized debating culture can be derived. Therefore, the research project contributes to strengthening the democratic potentials of digital communication.

The PhD projects are part of the Funding Program “Digital Society” of the Ministry of Culture and Science of the state of NRW. More details about the project can be found here (only available in German).