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The University of Southampton
Interdisciplinary Research Excellence

Arguing with the Other Side: Political Talk in the Networked Public Sphere. Event

7 October 2015
Building 58, Room 1007 Highfield Campus University of Southampton SO17 1BJ

For more information regarding this event, please email Jane Morgan at .

Event details

Dr Alfred Moore, and his colleague Rolf Fredheim, from the Centre for Research in Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Cambridge, will be presenting some of their work here on campus.

Many citizens in advanced democracies read and discuss the news online, and they increasingly do so through social media platforms. What effect might this have on the quality of public deliberation? In order to make a first step to addressing this large question, we have conducted a large scale study of patterns of online commenting on the Huffington Post. HuffPo has effectively provided a natural experiment by changing the structure of its comments section between January 2013 and June 2014, from an initial state of easy anonymity (the 'troll's paradise'), to a state in which registration was required but users could maintain pseudonyms, and then to outsourcing the comments to Facebook. We begin by disaggregating the concept of anonymity, enabling us to more clearly describe this change in the commenting architecture, which can be characterised in terms of two models of the online public sphere: adversarial spaces (in unregulated and regulated variants), and friendly spaces!

We then describe our empirical study of changes in the quantity and quality of discussion through these phases. Finally, we try to make sense of these changes by drawing on a minimal conception of deliberation as an exchange of arguments for or against something. From this point of view, and contrary to at least one prominent study, it seems that the best environment for deliberation was the regulated adversarial phase, rather than the unregulated adversarial space, or the friendly space of Facebook commenting, which were each problematic for different reasons. Our analysis suggests that there are good reasons, from the point of view of the quality of public deliberation (and not just from the point of view of fear of monopoly power and links to the national security state), to resist the concentration and integration of news through social media.

Speaker information

Alfred Moore,University of Cambridge,Centre for Research in Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

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