Angry Words: A Content Analysis of Emotion in Political Blogs and Op-Ed Columns

Mark Leccese 1 *, Meredith M. Regan 2

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Since the Internet became widely available in the 1990s, scholars have studied the online discourse around public affairs and politics. Davis (1999, p. 162) studied political conversations on the now little-used Internet message board system Usenet and found what he calls “discussion dominance” in which posters “launch into rhetorical excess” and talk not to one another but past one another. Chait (2007), is his examination of the “netroots” movement, reported that bloggers avoid moderate ideas and language at all costs, seeing moderation as a concession. Johnson and Kay (2004) surveyed blog readers online and found that two-thirds wanted not fairness from blogs but bias that supports their views. Writers in both the popular press and academic journals have argued that political blogs have increased the rancor and divisiveness in public life. Keen (2007, p. 3) writes that blogs have “perfected” political extremism. Habermas (1999) believes that rational public discourse requires sincerity in a deliberative space, but Sunstein (2007) argues that the challenge to Habermas’ view is that blog readers who read primarily like-mind points of view are more extreme in their political stances. Utych (2011) found that readers of political blogs are more likely to hold extreme opinions than citizens who get their news from the traditional media. In a study of incivility in online media, Borah (2012) found that divisive rhetoric on political blogs could lead to polarization of attitudes and erode deliberative discourse. Over the past few years, scholars have begun to focus the language and rhetoric of American political discourse online. Sobieraj and Berry (2011), continuing a strain of research into incivility in American political life, had independent coders looks for incidents of “outrage” on cable TV, talk radio, political blogs and newspaper columns using 13 categories of outrage incidents, including “name calling,” “emotional display,” “mockery/sarcasm,” and “emotional language.” One hundred percent of TV episodes and 98.8% of talk radio programs contained outrage, while “only” 82.8% of blog posts incorporated outrage writing. Serfaty (2011) argues that political blogs thrive on strong emotions and that posts on these blogs are devised to arouse intense political emotion.


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Article Type: Research Article

Online Journal of Communication and Media Technologies, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp. 27-36

Published Online: 15 Jul 2015

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