Disentangling Uncivil and Intolerant Discourse in Online Political Talk
This chapter takes up the popular argument that much online discussion is toxic and necessarily harmful to democracy. It offers a more nuanced theory by disentangling uncivil from intolerant discourse, arguing that the former should be understood as a rhetorical act that is not in itself problematic, and that the latter is the true threat to democracy. This framework allows scholars to understand the extent to which online discussions represent an actual threat to democratic pluralism and equality. The validity of this theoretical model is demonstrated in the context of public comments in a wide range of political news in two different platforms—news websites and social media in Brazil. The analysis demonstrates that incivility and intolerance can be meaningfully distinguished and suggests that incivility might be normalized in online political talk, but expressions of intolerance are rare. Moreover, the results also show that incivility is a rhetorical act often directed at politicians and political parties, indicating that people express themselves with antinormative intensity to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the political sphere, rather than to offend other participants in a discussion.