Incivil replies to ‘The Squad’ nearly doubled after Trump tweet, researchers find

After Trump’s 2019 tweet telling four congresswomen, known as “The Squad,” to “go back” to their home countries, the number of incivil replies to tweets made by the congresswomen almost doubled, new research finds. 

Despite all four congresswomen Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts — being U.S. citizens, many of the remarks echoed Trump’s sentiment that the congresswomen don’t belong holding office in the United States. In particular, two types of incivility towards the congresswomen increased significantly after Trump’s tweet — the use of stereotypes and threats to individual rights. 

According to the researchers, these four women “represent the racial, gender and religious minority in the United States” and have been the target of a large amount of incivility online. This research provides insight into incivility on Twitter, particularly when it is directed towards members of minority groups. 

“Conceptually, we were trying to figure out what incivility is,” said Itai Himelboim, a co-author of the study and the Thomas C. Dowden Professor of Media Analytics at Grady College. “Part of it is vulgarity, name calling and so on, but another element is a threat to one’s rights and democracy as a whole.”

To conduct their study, the researchers collected all replies to all tweets made by the four congresswomen from June 1, 2019, to August 31, 2019 six weeks before and six weeks after Trump’s July 14 tweet.

Out of the total 102,815 replies to the congresswomen’s tweets during the time period, a sample of 20,563 were coded for 14 variables, including tones and popular topics such as immigration, Muslim ban, abortion, LGBTQ rights and more. 

The researchers determined that just under two-thirds of all replies during the 12-week time period included at least one type of incivility. The findings also showed that, after Trump’s comments, the total number of replies to the congresswomen’s tweets jumped by roughly 20 percent. 

Overall, the most common type of incivility used against The Squad was “name calling,” identified as using disparaging remarks, such as “idiot” or “stupid.” Second was “stereotype,” which was identified as associating an individual with a group and using terms, such as “Muslim,” in a derogatory manner. Third was “threats to individual rights,” which is implying someone should not have rights, such as freedom of speech. Fourth was “vulgarity,” which is the use of swear words. 

Less frequent types of incivility included “aspiration,” which is making disparaging remarks about a policy, such as immigration, “pejorative wording,” which is using disparaging words about how someone is communicating, and “threats to democracy,” which is stating or implying a threat to the democratic method of governance as an ideal or system, such as advocating an overthrow of the government. 

“We need to understand that it is more than being vulgar and calling names not that there is justification for that but it comes down also to threatening individual rights and threats to democracy,” said Himelboim.

The study, titled “‘You are a disgrace and traitor to our country’: incivility against ‘The Squad’,” was published in the journal Internet Research.

Additional authors include recent Grady Ph.D. graduate Bryan Trude (PhD ’22), Kate Keib (PhD ‘17), associate provost of non-traditional programs and an assistant professor of communication studies at Oglethorpe University, Matthew Binford (PhD ‘21), assistant professor of practice at Western Carolina University, Porismita Borah, an associate professor in the College of Communication at Washington State University, and Bimbisar Irom, an assistant professor in the College of Communication at Washington State University. 

Himelboim named the Thomas C. Dowden Professor of Media Analytics

Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication has named Itai Himelboim the Thomas C. Dowden Professor of Media Analytics. Himelboim is an associate professor of advertising and director of the SEE Suite, the Social media Engagement & Evaluation lab.

“Dr. Himelboim, one of the world’s leading experts on social media analysis, will take the Media Analytics program at Grady College to new heights as the Thomas C. Dowden Professor,” said Charles N. Davis, dean of Grady College. “The demand for students trained in media analytics grows daily, and we’re listening to industry demand in expanding our work in the field.”

As Dowden Professor, Himelboim will direct research on social, political and economic issues involving media, and social media in particular. These subjects align closely with his areas of study and teaching, which focus on the role that social media, including Twitter and Facebook, plays in news, politics and international communication. Applying network analysis, Himelboim examines the network structures that are formed when users interact on social media, including the emergence of information echo chambers and the diffusion of content within and across these communication silos.  His work also studies influential users, emerging communities and the impact that news media plays in these interpersonal communication spaces.

“In this big data era, media analytics is more important than ever for students, faculty and the industry,” Himelboim said. “I am thrilled and humbled to hold the Thomas C. Dowden Professorship in Media Analytics, and I look forward to continuing the work of making Grady College a leader in media analytics research and education.”

Himelboim joined Grady College in 2008 and teaches undergraduate and graduate courses including “Social Media Analytics, Listening & Engagement,” “Network Analysis of Social Media” and “Insights & Analytics,” among other courses.

Himelboim teaches in the SEE Suite, an analytics lab that he directs.

In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Himelboim also directs the SEE Suite, overseeing the analytics lab where students examine large, cross-platform social media data through a variety of software, like Crimson Hexagon.

He is a prolific contributor to academic journals including the “Journal of Political Marketing,” “Computers in Human Behavior,” “Social Media + Society,” “Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly,” “Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication” and “Communication Research,” among others. He is also a co-author of the forthcoming book, “Analyzing social media networks with NodeXL: Insights from a connected world (2nd edition)”.

Himelboim frequently speaks at international conferences and universities, as well. Some of his recent talks include “Social Media Analytics for Communication and Marketing: From Big Data to Actionable Insights” at National Chengchi University in Taiwan, the workshop “Network analysis of social media: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and semantic networks” at Hong Kong City University, “A Network Approach to Viral Advertising: The role of traditional influencers, new influencers and low-influencers,” at the American Academy of Advertising conference in New York, and “Understanding Social Media Conversations via Clusters in Social and Semantic Networks” at the University of Amsterdam.

.Himelboim earned his doctorate degree from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Minnesota. He has a master’s degree in political communication and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Tel Aviv University.

The Dowden professorship was created in 2007.

Tom and Wendy Dowden at Grady College’s Centennial Celebration in 2015.

“While the original goal of the Dowden professorship was to explore the emergence of new media, the growing emphasis on media research and analytics is a new and important discipline in the field,” Dowden said of the new appointment. “I look forward to Itai’s involvement and contributions in this area under the aegis of the Dowden professorship.”

Dowden, a Grady College and UGA alumnus (ABJ ‘62; MA ‘64 in political science), is a pioneer in the cable industry, as well as founder and director of Dowden Communications. He is an emeritus chairman and member of the Peabody Board and emeritus UGA Foundation trustee. He received Grady’s John Holliman Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1990. He has been a generous supporter of the college, and has been committed to the development of the Graduate Certificate in Analytics program, with its focus on audience research and media innovation.

Ann Hollifield, who retired in January 2019, was the inaugural Dowden Professor.