Abstract: Abstract: Dialogue in r/Changemyview: A Discourse Analysis of Online Data (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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642P Abstract: Dialogue in r/Changemyview: A Discourse Analysis of Online Data

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Katherine Gower, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
Background and Purpose: Dialogic interventions offer opportunities for individuals with opposing views to come together and communicate in a constructive manner about sociopolitical issues upon which they might disagree. This is crucial for a society that has become increasingly divided and polarized. However, these interventions have generally been designed for face-to-face (FTF) situations, and nowadays, an increasing number of political conversations are happening online. Online contexts tend to produce types of communication that differ qualitatively and substantively from face-to-face conversations. The current study sought to examine how dialogue can unfold in the context of an online space designed to promote civil discussion: r/ChangeMyView (CMV). CMV is a subreddit designed to facilitate conversations among individuals who disagree on controversial topics, including religion, politics, and social issues, among many others. The discussion I focused on for this study was titled “CMV: Government regulations are necessary to protect the environment.”

Methods: In total, the discussion thread consisted of 160 comments, made by approximately 24 users. The analytical process consisted of five steps: 1. reading through the data to become familiar with it, making notes and memos, 2. rereading the data, looking for patterns and variability, paying attention to linguistic structures, discursive resources, and assumptions, 4. generating interpretations of these patterns/variations, and 5. reporting the findings. Although these steps are presented in a linear fashion, the process itself was highly iterative, involving multiple readings of comments, and continual refining of interpretations.

Results: Commenters in this discussion thread utilized linguistic structures and rhetorical strategies which served to explain, justify, and support their perspectives, and/or to challenge and critique those of their opponents. These strategies included analogies, metaphors, and examples. Often, others responded by further expanding on, critiquing, and questioning the metaphor/analogy. Commenters also justified their arguments by drawing upon assumptions regarding the power of market forces, particularly monetary incentives. Finally, commenters often challenged opponents by critiquing their arguments. Critiques which focused on definitions and understandings seemed to serve more constructive purposes; they appeared to seek clarification, and other commenters often responded to them by expanding their arguments and offering explanations. Critiques which focused on logic and reasoning however appeared discredit and delegitimize the arguments of opponents; they were sometimes responded to with further explanations, but they were also met with hostile tones, and/or defensiveness.

Conclusions and Implications: This study illustrated how conversations unfolded in an online context designed for civil discourse. Commenters often relied on rhetorical strategies, assumptions, and critiques to communicate their perspectives and opinions. Sometimes these strategies promoted constructive communication. Other times they did not, such as in the case of hostile critiques. This has important implications for people interested in online talk and dialogue, especially those who may be interested in facilitating dialogues in online spaces. Future research may further expand these findings by examining how dialogue unfolds in other online contexts.