Joining the clash or refusing to bash? Bystanders reactions to online celebrity bashing

Special Issue: Bystanders of Online Aggression

Researchers, in studies of online news-site commenting, have found a huge number of aggressive comments and have indicated that such comments should be interpreted within the discussion context that other bystanders, such as journalists and other readers, have created. In this study, we aimed to offer insights into bystanders’ reactions to negative news articles and other bystanders’ aggressive comments in the specific context of celebrity news. Therefore, we subjected Flemish celebrity-news articles (N = 69) and the Facebook reactions (N = 5,529) to those articles to a content analysis. First, using a quantitative content analysis, we coded each comment as having a negative, neutral, or positive tone. Next, we conducted a qualitative content analysis, which consisted of a vertical coding phase and a horizontal coding phase, so as to investigate the comments’ content in more depth and to determine which elements resulted in some comments’ negative and even aggressive tone. The results indicate that most readers’ reactions stayed on topic, thus merely contributing to the negative atmosphere that the journalist had already created. However, unlike the journalists, who tended to express their emotions rather subtly, the readers reacted using extreme aggressive language. Furthermore, although these aggressive reader reactions generally seemed to set an aggressive tone for future reactions, some readers broke this aggressive cycle and explicitly disapproved of the aggressive expressions.

Celebrity bashing; bystanders; user comments; online aggression; Facebook

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