Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Are new media technologies stirring up negative partisan feelings in the American public? Can researchers find ways of using new media tools to reduce affective polarization? Relying on a series of experiments featuring online newsfeeds and social media discussions, this dissertation seeks to answer these questions by testing the influence of partisan news and political discussions in realistic Internet environments. Two custom news “portals” (2016, 2018) expose participants to actual partisan news content. Two Facebook discussion experiments (2017, 2019) randomly assign participants to start real political discussions on their personal social media accounts, using discussion-initiation strategies designed to reduce partisan animus. Results from these efforts lead to two conclusions: first, partisan news exposure in online news environments may not be as polarizing as is often feared; next, social media users are capable of depolarizing themselves by the ways they begin political discussions. Both citizens and service providers can take steps to improve our hostile political climate through low-cost decisions.
Watson, Brian Kendall, "Can Cooler Heads Prevail? New Media Technology and Affective Polarization" (2019). LSU Doctoral Dissertations. 5002.