Self-Governance on Trial: A Public Sphere Analysis of News Website Forum Comments
AbstractThe online public sphere offers society an opportunity to pursue self-governance through rational-critical discourse of public issues. However, testing the effectiveness of the sphere involves studying the structure of the online forum (e.g. whether the forum allows for pseudonymous comments or not) and the quality of the content in the forum. This research studied online news forums on the topics of gun control and civil unions in Colorado to see what barriers to participating in the forum might exist in the structure of the forum and then what types of content was produced in the forum. The research showed that a forum allowing commenters to use a pseudonym led to comments with more exchange and critique of reasoned normative positions and use of supporting facts. However, neither the pseudonymous forum nor the identified forum had stronger levels of commitment to constructive dialogue in the forum. Also, commenters showed no reflexivity in their comments, meaning that participants were not assessing their own positions or changing their perspectives based on the arguments of others. While this shows that reducing barriers to accessing the forum helps to produce a public sphere environment, there is still work to be done in improving the level of constructive dialogue and stimulating negotiation and consensus building.
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