Us vs. them : online incivility, black sheep effect, and more




Kim, Ji won

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This dissertation investigated how an individual’s political identity as a partisan leads to incivility among others who participate in online news comment board discussions. In particular, this dissertation focused on how responses to uncivil comments differ when the uncivil comments are made by in-group members who share the same partisanship in contrast to situations when uncivil comments originate from out-group members whose political identities are in opposition. Specifically, it explored whether, why, and how uncivil comments of in-group member stimulate the feeling of vicarious shame that, in turn, leads to different perceptual, attitudinal, and behavioral responses among those who observe the uncivil expressions. Furthermore, this study examined how the effects of political identity on incivility are moderated by the strength of group identity as well as by social influence exerted via “recommendations” in response to uncivil. Given these goals, two experimental studies were conducted to investigate conditions and mechanisms that underlie the effects of uncivil expressions enacted by ingroup members as well as out-group members, based on several sequential mediation models that were developed for this study. Results of the both studies provided strong support for in-group favoritism whereby participants were more lenient in judging uncivil comments and uncivil commenters when they were associated with their own group. Study 1 further showed that this tendency was stronger when group identity of participants was stronger. Results of neither study showed support for the black sheep effect. Nevertheless, a high level of vicarious shame was observed when individuals witnessed uncivil comments coming from in-group members that, in turn, encouraged participants to engage in two types of coping strategies: situation-reparation and situation-avoidance. However, no evidence for social influence was found. Overall, findings of this research contribute to development of a big picture perspective of online incivility and suggest ways that civil and healthy online discussions may be promoted in the future.


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