The Dynamics of Political Incivility on Twitter

Yannis Theocharis, Pablo Barberá, Zoltán Fazekas, Sebastian Adrian Popa

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Online incivility and harassment in political communication have become an important topic of concern among politicians, journalists, and academics. This study provides a descriptive account of uncivil interactions between citizens and politicians on Twitter. We develop a conceptual framework for understanding the dynamics of incivility at three distinct levels: macro (temporal), meso (contextual), and micro (individual). Using longitudinal data from the Twitter communication mentioning Members of Congress in the United States across a time span of over a year and relying on supervised machine learning methods and topic models, we offer new insights about the prevalence and dynamics of incivility toward legislators. We find that uncivil tweets represent consistently around 18% of all tweets mentioning legislators, but with spikes that correspond to controversial policy debates and political events. Although we find evidence of coordinated attacks, our analysis reveals that the use of uncivil language is common to a large number of users.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSage Open
Issue number2
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020


  • Politics
  • Social media
  • Incivility
  • Machine learning
  • Gender
  • Topic models

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