New Publication: Political Discussions in Homogeneous and Cross-Cutting Communication Spaces

A comparison of user behavior on Reddit in politically homogeneous and cross-cutting communication spaces.

Jisun AnHaewoon KwakOliver Posegga, and I just released a preprint of our upcoming ICWSM paper "Political Discussions in Homogeneous and Cross-Cutting Communication Spaces" on arXiv. In the paper, we compare user behavior on Reddit in politically homogeneous and cross-cutting communication spaces.

We show that a majority of users who were active in a subreddit supporting a given candidate (homogenous spaces) were also active in subreddits without clear political affiliation. But they did not necessarily interact with supporters of opposing candidates.

We also found users to switch communication styles and linguistic features depending on whether they communicated in a politically homogenous or cross-cutting environment and whether they were interacting across party lines.

To us these findings point to a more complicated picture of political discourse online than that which currently prevails publicly. For example, instead of echo chambers we find a complicated mix of behavior depending on contexts.

Lots of caveats apply of course, but to us these findings indicate that we should use more precise conceptualizations that allow for examining structural patterns, behaviors, and outcomes independently rather than as part of some conceptual package, such as the “echo chamber.”

Abstract: Online platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit, provide users with a rich set of features for sharing and consuming political information, expressing political opinions, and exchanging potentially contrary political views. In such activities, two types of communication spaces naturally emerge: those dominated by exchanges between politically homogeneous users and those that allow and encourage cross-cutting exchanges in politically heterogeneous groups. While research on political talk in online environments abounds, we know surprisingly little about the potentially varying nature of discussions in politically homogeneous spaces as compared to cross-cutting communication spaces. To fill this gap, we use Reddit to explore the nature of political discussions in homogeneous and cross-cutting communication spaces. In particular, we develop an analytical template to study interaction and linguistic patterns within and between politically homogeneous and heterogeneous communication spaces. Our analyses reveal different behavioral patterns in homogeneous and cross-cutting communications spaces. We discuss theoretical and practical implications in the context of research on political talk online.