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Negative language inspires viciousness

Nov. 5, 2011 at 1:59 AM

COLUMBIA, Mo., Nov. 5 (UPI) -- Politics are getting nastier due to digital media, which are segmenting people into polarized interest groups, U.S. researchers suggest.

Ben Warner of the University of Missouri and Ryan Neville-Shepard of Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus examined political arguments in the digital age and found the rhetoric in Howard Dean's 2004 presidential primary blogs indicated a dramatic fight between heroes and villains.

As bloggers for the site would post comments about their activities, a common theme of "fighting to take back our country" emerged, Warner said.

"While this isn't new language to campaigns, it implies that political authority must be taken rather than earned, indicating that the ruling party is an illegitimate power," Warner said in a statement. "When this type of language is adopted by the base, a channel is created for that viciousness to grow.

"One side is going to lose in every political discussion," Warner said. "The danger with this open hostility found in digital media toward the other side in politics is that it undermines the legitimacy of the people that we disagree with politically. It's important to recognize that people who disagree with you aren't 'evil' or 'trying to destroy America;' they just have different perspectives."

Warner also reviewed President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign blogs, in which bloggers often dismissed overly negative comments and asked users to remain respectful.

"The conversation on the Obama Blogs matched the respectful tone modeled by the campaign itself," Warner said. "Sen. John McCain wasn't an 'evil villain' but a 'misguided politician who should be respected for his service to the country."

The findings were published in the Atlantic Journal of Communication.

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