Bernie’s Mittens at BLM: People Talk Politics Through Online Community Groups With Less Venom
Those who study social media for political discourse trends need to look beyond political websites, as many meaningful – and sometimes less controversial – conversations take place in everyday online communities, according to a news report. research from the University of Michigan School of Information.
Almost 50% of political discussions on Reddit take place in subreddit communities where the main topic is not politics. And it is not a few very large apolitical communities that are holding discussions, but a “long tail of small communities” that each have political content, according to the researchers. While toxicity levels increase during policy discussions in non-political subreddits, the level is much lower than in political subreddits.
“Political discourse in non-political spaces is less toxic to co-partisan and inter-party conversations. This last point was of particular concern: inter-party animosity is a significant challenge in political communication in the United States (both online and offline), ”said the lead author. Ashwin Rajadesingan, doctoral student at the UM School of Information. “Our study suggests that there are things we can learn from these non-political spaces to improve this discourse.”
Rajadesingan uses as an example a discussion on r / man, a community on men’s fashion. Members of this subreddit don’t normally talk about politics every day, he said, but a thread on Bernie’s mittens evolved into a discussion of the differences between the capitalist and socialist systems.
“I have always known that there were political discussions in many relatively non-political communities. I frequent a few sports communities on Reddit and usually saw discussions of Black Lives Matter protests or the denial of voter rights, but I was very surprised at the cumulative volume of these discussions in such spaces, ”Rajadesingan said. . “In a non-political community, there may only be a few political conversations like this, but it turns out that out of tens of thousands of those communities, those casual conversations add up to many discussions.”
Using PushShift, a social media dataset of subreddits that has been collected, analyzed and archived for researchers since 2015, the team analyzed 2.8 billion comments in nearly 31,000 subreddits from 2016 to 2019.
To estimate the prevalence of political discussion in these comments, they constructed a simple classifier that identifies whether a comment is likely to be political, based on its similarity to comments found in known political subheadings. However, since not all comments in political subreddits are political, they calibrated the classifier using human judgments to accurately estimate the true prevalence of political comments in each subreddit.
In total, they estimate that about 13% of all comments on Reddit are political. It is estimated that nearly half of these political commentaries are published in captions that are not explicitly political.
Using a tool called the Perspective Toxicity Classifier, researchers determined when a post was a “rude, disrespectful and unreasonable comment that could lead to a discussion,” a definition of toxicity used in the research community. . The team found that multi-party responses were significantly less toxic in non-political subreddits than in political communities (over 24% vs. 30%).
“One plausible explanation is that people have established that they have a shared non-political interest, which tempers political disagreements. Another possibility is simply that the norm of being a little nicer will set in non-political conversations and carry on, ”said the co-author. Paul Resnick, the Michael D. Cohen Collegiate Professor of Information.
The researchers note that although lower in apolitical communities, the level of toxicity is still higher compared to apolitical discourse in apolitical communities.
“So talking about politics in non-political spaces comes at a cost and our results should not be seen as ‘just shifting political discourse to non-political spaces’,” said Ceren Budak, assistant professor of information. “This could have negative consequences on the overall health of these apolitical communities. “