Published on September 10th, 2014

Incivility can run rampant in online comment sections. From a democratic angle, incivility on news sites creates reasons for concern. From a business angle, some news staff members worry that incivility-laced comment sections can damage their reputation and harm the overall news brand. Although news organizations can employ moderators to remove uncivil comments from these online forums, the practice can be both time-consuming and expensive.

With this in mind, we conducted two field studies with media partners to examine what happens when journalists take a more active role in comment sections. We analyzed whether posing questions to commenters can affect incivility and how long site visitors spend on a webpage. We also examined whether the presence of a reporter affects the tenor of the discussion.



  • Natalie (Talia) Jomini Stroud

    Natalie (Talia) Jomini Stroud

    Natalie (Talia) Jomini Stroud (PhD, University of Pennsylvania) is the founding and current Director of the Center for Media Engagement and Associate Professor of Communication Studies and Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. Her book, Niche News: The Politics of News Choice, received the Outstanding Book Award from the International Communication Association, and inspired the early development of the Center. Her research examines the use and effects of political news content.

  • Ashley Muddiman

    Ashley Muddiman
    Faculty Research Associate

    Ashley Muddiman (PhD, University of Texas at Austin) is an Assistant Professor in the Communication Studies department at the University of Kansas. Ashley is broadly interested in political media effects and specifically interested in political conflict and incivility. Her current research projects study the role media coverage plays in shaping citizens’ perceptions of political incivility, explore how citizens interact with online news depicting incivility, and investigate tactics, such as fact checking, that have the potential to diminish the effects of incivility.

  • Joshua Scacco

    Joshua Scacco
    Faculty Research Associate

    Joshua M. Scacco (PhD, The University of Texas at Austin) is an Assistant Professor of Media Theory & Politics in the Brian Lamb School of Communication at Purdue University. He also serves as a Research Associate for the Center for Media Engagement (CME). He is interested broadly in the communicative role elites and organizations, including political leaders, journalists, and news outlets, play in American political life.

  • Alex Curry

    Alex Curry
    Research Associate

    Alex Curry (MA, Brigham Young University) is a doctoral student in communication studies and an assistant instructor at the University of Texas at Austin. His research interests include political communication and civic engagement, and he is particularly interested in how politicians use their own personal involvement with sports as a way to connect with voters. From 2005 to 2010, he served as a writer for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. When he’s not studying, Alex enjoys hiking with his wife and four children.

  • Cynthia Peacock

    Cynthia Peacock
    Faculty Research Associate

    Cynthia Peacock (PhD, University of Texas at Austin) is an Assistant Professor in the Communication Studies department at the University of Alabama. She is interested in political communication and news use. Her most recent research investigates the contexts in which people express and avoid expressing their political opinions, and the ways in which diverse opinion expression and disagreement take place in political discussions.