New research on political hostility on social media

Death threats, extremism, and much more are thriving on social media. Conflicts of interest have a way of heating up discussions and a place where it is problematic is in a political context.

Michael Bang Petersen is a professor in political science at Aarhus University who we previously have had collaborations with. Now he has an interesting research project coming up from January 2020 about political hostility on social media. The project has been granted 15.7 million DKK from the Semper-Ardens grant from the Carlsberg Foundation. The grant is given to visionary research ideas that try to improve the world, with researchers internationally recognized and connected to the Danish research environment.

Politicians experience a lot of hateful comments on social media and some of them are even violent or threatening. They have the feeling that it is escalating and so does the laymen behind the screens. People in general feel like discussing politics on social media has become unpleasant.

The purpose of Petersen’s research is to find out why people behind the screens are triggered and become aggressive. What particular frustration turns into hatred and what is it about the online environment that is different from the offline one? The second part is to figure out the consequences of this. What impact does it have on democracy and behavior in real life? Lastly, the research will come up with counter-strategies that can prevent or help the aggressive behavior.

The research will have qualitative interviews to understand what drives people’s behavior. Secondly, experiments on simulations of political discussions both online and face-to-face will take place in Denmark. In the US where Twitter is more widely used, a combination of survey data and Twitter data will be analyzed.

We have previously had collaboration with Petersen on our game Skill lab: Science Detective. He provided the questions on political stance for the questionnaire part as some evidence shows psychological differences between those people on the left and right wing. This is where the Cognitive Map created in the game could give an indication of the cognitive skills that are different between the two groups.

Skill Lab Questionnaire

Remember to fill out the questionnaire in Skill Lab: Science Detective

This is also how we are continuing collaboration with Petersen’s new research. Cognitive Maps could be a way of analyzing the population and figuring out what makes some people aggressive online.

Are you interested in figuring out your own Cognitive Map?

Play Skill Lab: Science Detective and help research on the development of cognitive skills and their relation to other games e.g. Quantum Moves.

Play Skill Lab: Science Detective


New research on political hostility on social media