Facts and feelings in comment threads: An exploration of grass-roots writers’ norms for online political discussion

Sofia Christina Larsson


This article surveys a “real world” ideal of online discussions using a bottom-up perspective to study current norms of independent debaters online. It contributes to the field with a qualitative and grounded analysis of solo grass-roots writers’ own debate norms – their ideas of the good and bad debates. Thus, the article does not ask, “Is their discussion democratic, and does it contribute to revitalizing democracy?” Instead, it asks, “What makes for a good online debate as described from a grass-roots perspective?” The results indicate that objectivity, respect and politeness are main themes in their descriptions, while the theme of emotion constitutes a contrast from the others. Concurrently, there are studies that discuss a more open understanding of online political participation that is moving away from strict Habermasian evaluations of online discussions. This can be considered a positive development for marginalized voices that are not writing in a purely rational argumentative manner. However, this article argues that the, in many aspects, counter-hegemonic writers in this study who could benefit from a broader approach, nevertheless, still value many traditional ideals.


online discussions, public sphere, agonistic democracy, participation, citizen journalism, alternative media

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.15847/obsOBS842014768