Editor’s Note: Last week, The Texas Tribune unveiled TribTalk, described by Tribune editor Emily Ramshaw as “an op-ed page for the 21st century.” The Tribune intends to use its sister op-ed site as a mini-laboratory to experiment with new digital initiatives. In that spirit, the Tribune partnered with the Engaging News Project at the University of Texas at Austin’s Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life to implement the “respect” button, an alternative to the “like” buttons and thumbs-up icons used by other news forums and social media outlets. Here, Engaging News Project director Talia Stroud explains the rationale behind the “respect” button.
“Like.” Who knew such a small, simple word would become our default reaction? The term is not only an indelible component of casual sentence structure but also governs how we respond to everything from news articles to Facebook comments from our closest friends.
But what happens when you don’t actually “like” something? A heartwarming story about a local hero? That’s easy to “like.” But what about a comment appearing on a news site that is fair but differs from your beliefs? That’s a bit more challenging. What happens if, instead of “like,” one is able to “respect?”
As you may have noticed, the TribTalk comment section doesn’t have a “like” button. Instead, the site provides commenters with a “respect” button, a feature tested and developed by the Engaging News Project at the University of Texas at Austin. We believe this button will help Texans find common ground on the tough issues discussed on TribTalk.
How did we come to this conclusion? We started by researching how people reacted to a comment section depending on whether they were able to “like,” recommend” or “respect” other people’s comments. Study participants saw exactly the same comment section, save for one change: Some people saw a comment section where they could “like” other comments, others saw only “recommend,” and still others saw only “respect.”
Through our research, we discovered that respondents were more likely to click on comments expressing different political views when they had a “respect” button to use.
Based on our findings, we think newsrooms should consider using a “respect” button in their comment sections to get people to engage with political views that they may not “like.”
Of course, “respect” is not a cure-all. Politics provokes emotional responses and heated partisan reactions that won’t make all views respectable to everyone. But providing buttons that give commenters room to appreciate views they may not “like” can change how people respond to comments. Given the political polarization facing our country, this may be a way to help citizens find common ground. What better platform to employ this idea than on a nonpartisan site dedicated to sharing opinions?
We’re thrilled that TribTalk is using the “respect” button. It’s a tool we’re very proud of, and one we think can make a difference. We hope readers use it to participate in TribTalk’s comment sections — without having to use that four-letter-word.
Natalie (Talia) J. Stroud, Ph.D., teaches courses in public opinion, media effects and political communication at the University of Texas at Austin. She also is the assistant director at the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Participation. You can follow her on Twitter at @TaliaStroud.
This post originally appeared on NewsBiz.