Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2439

Article | Open Access

Barriers to Participation in Polarized Online Discussions About Covid-19 and the Russo-Ukrainian War

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Abstract:  Even though social networking sites create a unique online public space for the exchange of opinions, only a small share of citizens participate in online discussions. Moreover, research has depicted current online discussions as highly uncivil, hostile, and polarized, and the number of heated discussions has escalated in the last two years because of health, social, and security crises. This study investigates the perceived barriers to participation in Facebook discussions, focusing on two topics: the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russo-Ukrainian War. It explores the role that the negativity of these online discussions has on participation. To investigate the perspectives of users and their personal experiences with online discussions in times of crisis, we apply a qualitative research method and interviews with participants. We collected and analyzed 50 semi-structured interviews with Czech Facebook users who participated in discussions during the spring of 2021 (i.e., Covid-19) and the spring of 2022 (i.e., Russo-Ukrainian War). The results show that, after initial mobilization at the beginning of the pandemic, the crisis reinforced several crucial barriers to participation in discussions due to the perceived persistence of polarization (e.g., the spread of disinformation, the bipolar character of discussions, negative perception of opponents), which subsequently spread to other areas and issues. The data also implies that these barriers tend to demobilize less active participants, those who do not have strong opinions, and participants who think the subject matter is not worth the heated exchange of opinions.

Keywords:  Covid-19; cross-cutting discussions; Facebook; incivility online; online discussions; opinion polarization; Russo-Ukrainian War

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/mac.v11i3.6657

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© Martina Novotná, Alena Macková, Karolína Bieliková, Patrícia Rossini. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.