Political discourse is no longer the domain of pundits and experts. Instead, platforms such as facebook, twitter and others allow citizens and individuals to engage in both, well-informed debates as well as discussions that can degenerate into personal attacks. We are not well-equipped to engage in this new social computing milieux. As we are confronted by a barrage of news reports, news ‘share’s, ‘like’s, tweets, and reader comments on news reports, we find it increasingly difficult to engage in this discourse. We confront the usual suspects such as confirmation bias, and fallacious arguments. Much prior research shows that individuals more readily accept information that confirms prior beliefs and reject information that challenges these: the so-called confirmation bias, which in turn can lead to greater polarization and hardening of beliefs. Fact-checking tools alone simply cannot help.

Our research takes a novel approach to investigate this interplay between the news content and the belief structures of individuals who engage in this political discourse by expressing their views via news ‘share’s, ‘like’s, tweets, and reader comments on news reports. We examine these to better understand what leads individuals to lend credence to narratives, fake and otherwise. Our investivation builds on rhetorical theory and social representations theory. Our goal is to conduct empirical investigations to better diagnose and expose the discursive relationship between reported news and socially constructed beliefs, and to design tools that can help each of us become more nuanced consumers of and participants in this political discourse.

For further information, contact Sandeep Purao at spurao@bentley.edu