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Could 'Respect' Instead of 'Like' Lead to More Civil Discourse Online?

Engaging News Project
Natalie Stroud of the Engaging News Project. A part of the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life, the ENP researches new ways to engage online audiences.

When it comes to news, what do you like?

We all tend to gravitate toward the things we like and avoid the things we don’t but, according to UT Professor Natalie Stroud, that’s bad news for democracy. As director of the Engaging News Project, Stroud has come up with an intriguing proposition: What if we replace the ‘like’ button with a ‘respect’ button?

Stroud spoke with KUT’s David Brown on the Engaging News Project’s recent experiment.

“For many contexts the 'like' button is fantastic, and works quite well,” Stroud said. “When you take the ‘like’ button that was created for a social media outlet and put that in a newsroom, you have to be more mindful of what that word means."

For example, it’s difficult to like a story about a natural disaster, Stroud explained. “It doesn’t seem like the right word choice.”

In the experiment, Stroud’s team took real articles that existed online and showed different variations of the attached comments section. Study participants were shown the article, and then later the comments section.

People were shown a comments section that had either a like, recommend or respect button. Stroud’s team monitored if they clicked buttons associated with comments that matched their political beliefs and the comments associated with views that didn’t match their beliefs.

“We found that when compared to ‘like,’ the ‘respect’ button encourages people to click that button next to views that disagree with their own more frequently. By using a respect button, that says ‘Maybe i don’t agree with you necessarily but at least I can see where you’re coming from,’” Stroud said.

She also added that respect has some advantages from a democratic angle.

“I think if we look at any of the debates that are happening right now, getting a little respect in there would be a great thing,” which Stroud says would help news outlets trying to create an online space with more civil dialogue. “There’s a lot of potential for social science to contribute to creating those spaces.”

While going from "like" to "respect" may not seem like a major change, for the Engaging News Project that’s precisely the point.

“We really thought about that a lot when we started the Engaging News Project. We could propose fundamental changes in the ways news is organized or presented. We opted instead to look at smaller changes, but many small changes because they’re actually adoptable. This is something a news organization could implement in a few days’ time. I do think these have the potential to make a difference.”


David entered radio journalism thanks to a love of storytelling, an obsession with news, and a desire to keep his hair long and play in rock bands. An inveterate political junkie with a passion for pop culture and the romance of radio, David has reported from bases in Washington, London, Los Angeles, and Boston for Monitor Radio and for NPR, and has anchored in-depth public radio documentaries from India, Brazil, and points across the United States and Europe. He is, perhaps, known most widely for his work as host of public radio's Marketplace. Fulfilling a lifelong dream of moving to Texas full-time in 2005, Brown joined the staff of KUT, launching the award-winning cultural journalism unit "Texas Music Matters."
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