Determining the Drivers and Dynamics of Partisanship and Polarisation in Online Public Debate

Rapidly increasing partisanship and polarisation, especially online, poses an urgent threat to societal cohesion in Australia and other established western democracies; polarisation is also a critical concern when actively promoted by bad-faith actors to undermine citizens’ trust in democratic institutions. By introducing an analytical framework that distinguishes several key domains of polarisation (news, audience, discourse), this Australian Laureate Fellowship conducts the first-ever assessment of the extent and dynamics of polarisation in the contemporary online and social media environments of a number of democratic nations, including Australia. The evidence is expected to enable an urgently needed, robust defence of society and democracy against the challenges of polarisation.

Specifically, the project addresses the following challenges:

Polarisation is poorly defined in media and communication research. We need to define, conceptualise, and measure polarisation in order to enable more rigorous empirical research and more targeted actions against the problematic consequences of polarisation.

Polarisation has a negative connotation. We need to be more specific on when exactly polarisation is a problematic process, and define elements and indicators of destructive polarisation.

There is a tendency to conceptualise polarisation as left vs. right. We need to explore measures of polarisation beyond the dominant left-right continuum. We need to develop new frameworks to assess levels of polarisation across different issues, identities, ideologies, and other dimensions.

Specifically, our work at this point addresses three major domains:

DMRC research program

This project contributes to the research within the following DMRC research programs:

DMRC research groups

This project contributes to the research within the following DMRC research groups:

Project team

Project funding

ARC Laureate Fellowship (2022-26)