Home / Technology / News /  What drives the toxicity on Twitter?

Across the world, Twitter has emerged as an important platform for politicians and citizens to interact. But in recent years this interaction has become toxic with the rise of hate speech, harassment and offensive content. While people often attribute this to ‘organized trolling’ and anonymous entities, regular Twitter users are also to blame. According to new research, regular Twitter users frequently use uncivil language when interacting with political leaders.

In the study, Yannis Theocharis and others used machine learning tools to analyse tweets mentioning legislators the United States between October 2016 and December 2017. This was also a tumultuous political period which included the election of a new American president in November 2016. The authors found that 25% of daily tweets addressing legislators were uncivil. Tweets were defined as uncivil tweets when they contained offensive language, expletives and other insults such as ‘idiot’, ‘stupid’, ‘moron’, ‘traitor’ and ‘loser’. They find that organized trolls were not entirely responsible for abusive tweets with uncivil language commonly used by frustrated citizens to criticize political leaders.

Their analysis shows that political events, scandals and policy debates also spark bouts of incivility and targeting of politicians. For instance, anti-Clinton messages during the US election and debates to repeal Obamacare saw vicious vitriol. Legislators who held extreme ideologies were also targeted more than others. Republican legislators were more likely to be at the receiving end of such attacks because they enjoyed a greater share of political power, the authors argue. Removing this toxicity will require changes to Twitter’s design and a better understanding of the forces driving uncivil behaviour, the authors conclude.

Also read: The Dynamics of Political Incivility on Twitter

Snap Fact features new and interesting reads from the world of research.

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