Construction of the Political Other in Citizens' Comments on Politicians' Facebook Pages

Construction of the Political Other in Citizens' Comments on Politicians' Facebook Pages

Oyewole Adekunle Oladapo (University of Ibadan, Department of Communication and Language Arts, Ibadan, Nigeria)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/IJEP.2017040102
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Facebook is emerging as a platform for moderately civil political discussion because of its high level of identifiability. To confirm if Facebook construction of political opposition is equally civil, this study content analyses 28 comment threads (N=3,311 comments) from the Facebook pages of four aspirants in two Nigerian gubernatorial elections. The study finds that civil comments, though mostly impolite, dominate the Facebook pages of the aspirants. It finds also a significant relationship between comment position and its politeness and civility. Neutral comments are most likely to be civil and polite while dissenting comments are most likely to be uncivil. More than others, dissenting comments constitute a potent discursive tool for othering political opposition into a politically disadvantaged position.
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Dominant position in literature on online political discussion is that it is dominated by incivility (Brooks & Geer, 2007; Coe, Kenski, & Rains, 2014; Hmielowski, Hutchens, & Cicchirillo, 2014; Hwang, Kim, & Huh, 2014; Gervais, 2015; Ksiazek, 2015; Santana, 2015). Going by this position, uncivil political discussion online should naturally pose a threat to democracy. Contrarily, some empirical findings are revealing that online incivility is not as absolutely harmful as it appears (Brooks & Geer, 2007; Hmielowski, et al., 2014; Gervais, 2015). For instance, online incivility is found to have some positive influence on political engagement of the electorate (Brooks & Geer, 2007). It becomes socially acceptable over time among habitual participants in online political discussion as a means of constructing political reality (Hmielowski, et al., 2014). It has even been found to have different effects on participants in discussions based on its source and aligned interest (Gervais, 2015). Despite this seemingly positive picture of online political discussion, it must be noted that there is no generally agreed upon definition of incivility in online discussion. Also, it has been observed that there has been a blurring of boundaries between civility and politeness over the years (Papacharissi, 2004). This ongoing scholarly conversation indicates that the issue of incivility in online political discussion is still far from being resolved.

This study joins this conversation by analysing the corpus of citizens’ comments on Facebook pages of four main aspirants in two Nigerian gubernatorial elections. The pre-election periods in the two states were characterised by violence and deaths within the context of acrimonious campaigns (Ibekwe, 2014; Ezeamalu, 2014). The Facebook pages of four main aspirants constituted a platform where Facebook users discursively participated in the election process. Since a Facebook page is open to those who wish to ‘like’ it to follow its owner, its openness could equally attract those who do not like the politician owner. Within this discourse of civility in online political discussion, this study inquiries into the relationship between Facebook users’ position on politicians’ views or candidacy and construction of political opposition in Facebook comments.

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