Social Media Incivility and Candidate Gender during the 2020 US Election

Social Data Research Fellowship

Abstract

Women are severely underrepresented in political office in the United States. This project investigates whether incivility—a concept capturing a range of norm-violating behaviors such as ad hominem insults, vulgarity, stereotyping, threatening democracy, etc.—present in social media environments exacerbates this problem. Do uncivil social media environments put women candidates at an electoral disadvantage? The project will answer this question through a quantitative content analysis and an experiment. The research team will gather social media posts targeted at women candidates and their opponents from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram during the 2020 general election. Using a mix of human and computer-aided content analysis, the research team will uncover whether women are targeted with more (and more severe) types of social media incivility than men during a campaign, and whether these patterns are consistent across social media platforms. Additionally, using the patterns of incivility uncovered in the content analysis, we will conduct an experiment designed to test the effects of exposure to social media incivility on public opinion. Using these methods, the project offers a test of whether women candidates are more heavily targeted with incivility than men on social media, and advances prior research by examining platform differences (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram), novel types of incivility (e.g., democratic threats), and the effects of exposure to uncivil social media environments on support for women candidates and desire to get involved in politics.

Research Team

Principal Investigator

Ashley Muddiman

Associate Professor, University of Kansas Center for Research, Inc.

  • Bio ▾

    Dr. Ashley Muddiman (University of Texas at Austin, PhD) is an associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Kansas, as well as a faculty research associate with the Center for Media Engagement. Her research explores political media effects, specifically those related to digital news and political incivility. She has studied how people select news stories to read in digital news and social media spaces, has examined incivility in the New York Times comment section, and has investigated ways to encourage people to overcome their partisan biases when interacting with digital news. In addition to her theoretical work, Dr. Muddiman has developed innovative research designs, including a method for researchers to use when analyzing textual content in large datasets. Dr. Muddiman’s research has appeared in top academic publications in the communication and media fields, including the Journal of Communication, Political Communication, Communication Research, and New Media and Society. Her dissertation was awarded the Lynda Lee Kaid Outstanding Dissertation Award, and her work has received top paper awards from divisions in the National Communication Association, the American Political Science Association, and the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

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