Community Guidelines: How Misinformation Reinforces Insular, Polarized, and Toxic Interactions

Published:

Recommended citation: Hanley, Hans WA, Deepak Kumar, and Zakir Durumeric. "Community Guidelines: How Misinformation Reinforces Insular, Polarized, and Toxic Interactions." (2023).

How do different communities respond to news from unreliable sources? How does news from these types of sources change and alter conversations within these communities? In this work, we examine the role of online misinformation in sparking political incivility and toxicity on the social media platform Reddit’s online communities or subreddits. Utilizing the Google Jigsaw Perspective API to identify online examples of online toxicity, hate speech, and other forms of incivility, we find Reddit comments on misinformation articles promote toxicity at a rate 60\% higher than on authentic news articles. Identifying the specific instances of commenter’s incivility and utilizing an exponential random graph model, we further identify that misinformation, in particular, promotes inter-political strife among Reddit users, with users in these environments more likely to target with toxic comments other Reddit users of different political beliefs than in other settings. Finally, utilizing a zero-inflated negative binomial regression, we identify the specific characteristics of subreddits that promote user engagement with misinformation. In contrast to user engagement with authentic news, users in more uncivil/toxic subreddits are more likely to comment and otherwise engage with misinformation.