Representation and Aggression in Digital Racial Conflict: Analyzing Public Comments during Live-Streamed News of Racial Justice Protests
By Nathan P. Kalmoe, P. Brooks Fuller, Martina Santia and Paromita Saha, Louisiana State University
How do local citizens publicly converse online about the protests that follow when police kill Black residents? And do participants reflect local publics? Here we examine racial justice protests in Baton Rouge after police killed Alton Sterling in 2016. Local news streamed the protests on Facebook Live. In comments appearing below the video, locals supported and attacked each other in real-time while watching protests unfold. We assess a representative sample of these comments. First, we find surprising demographic and political representativeness in comments compared to census data and a local survey. We also document extensive hostile rhetoric corresponding with commenter traits and expressed views. Finally, we find more “likes” for comments by women, college-educated people, and locals. Violent and racially derogatory comments by Blacks received fewer likes, but similar comments by whites went unpenalized. The results illuminate social media functions in local politics, racial disparities in contentious digital dialogues, and political communication’s dual roles in strengthening and undermining multiracial democracy.