Examining the Role of Online Uncivil Discussion and Ideological Extremity on Illegal Protest
Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, Pennsylvania State University, USA / Democracy Research Unit, University of Salamanca, Spain
Democracy Research Unit, University of Salamanca, Spain
Homero Gil de Zúñiga
Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, Pennsylvania State University, USA / Democracy Research Unit, University of Salamanca, Spain / Faculty of Communication and Humanities, Diego Portales University, Santiago, Chile
Abstract: In recent years, there has been an increased academic interest revolving around the beneficial or pernicious effects of ideological extremity and (uncivil) political discussion over democracy. For instance, citizens’ ideological predispositions and higher levels of political discussion have been linked with a more active and vibrant political life. In fact, ideological extremity and uncivil discussion foster institutionalized political engagement. However, less explored in the literature remains whether such polarization and uncivil discussions may be related to unlawful political behavior such as illegal protest. This study contends that one of the main drivers of illegal protest behavior lies in online uncivil political discussion, specifically through the normalization and activation of further incivility. We tested this through a two-wave panel data drawn from a diverse US sample and cross-sectional, lagged, and autoregressive regression models. Mediation analysis was also conducted to test whether uncivil online discussion mediated the relationship between frequency of online political discussion and illegal protest engagement. Overall, we found that illegal protest was particularly associated with online uncivil discussion, while ideological extremity and other forms of online and offline discussions seemed to have no effect on unlawful protest over time.