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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Jarice Hanson

Second Advisor

Erica Scharrer

Third Advisor

Jane Fountain

Subject Categories

Communication | Communication Technology and New Media | Mass Communication | Speech and Rhetorical Studies


Since their inception, online discussion boards have intrinsically appealed to proponents of deliberative democracy, and those appended to Web-based news sources have been recognized as possessing the potential – whether realized yet or not – to engender meaningful discussions by engaged citizens on a range of public issues. In contrast, ardent critics of such forums contend they are merely raucous and unstructured repositories of expressions reflecting the darker side of human nature (e.g. incivility, vulgarity, ad hominem attacks, racism, homophobia, etc.).

This study assessed the deliberative quality of online postings made over a two- month period and affiliated with four popular news sites. The researcher administered an a priori content analysis scheme designed to gauge four key component measurements of a comment’s deliberative quality (civility, politeness, justification and complexity) while also coding categorical information pertaining to the modality and constitution of precipitating news content. The findings revealed statistically significant differences in the overall deliberative quality of comments, as well as a wide range of differences within each of the component measures, across the four platforms. A broader matrix of comparisons (utilizing each of the categorical variables to group data accordingly) are presented in alignment with five overarching research questions.

From the study emerges the need to embrace a different premise altogether when considering the efficacy of online discussion boards: to better understand whether or not this contemporary communicative construct is thriving or withering, it is first necessary to recognize that a multiplicity of online spaces exist, each theoretically serving different typologies of publics. Only after doing so does the researcher endeavor to offer an array of tailored reforms to better calibrate the expectations for participant engagement and information dissemination and synthesis.