Persistent interaction patterns across social media platforms and over time

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Growing concern surrounds the impact of social media platforms on public discourse1,2,3,4 and their influence on social dynamics5,6,7,8,9, especially in the context of toxicity10,11,12. Here, to better understand these phenomena, we use a comparative approach to isolate human behavioural patterns across multiple social media platforms. In particular, we analyse conversations in different online communities, focusing on identifying consistent patterns of toxic content. Drawing from an extensive dataset that spans eight platforms over 34 years—from Usenet to contemporary social media—our findings show consistent conversation patterns and user behaviour, irrespective of the platform, topic or time. Notably, although long conversations consistently exhibit higher toxicity, toxic language does not invariably discourage people from participating in a conversation, and toxicity does not necessarily escalate as discussions evolve. Our analysis suggests that debates and contrasting sentiments among users significantly contribute to more intense and hostile discussions. Moreover, the persistence of these patterns across three decades, despite changes in platforms and societal norms, underscores the pivotal role of human behaviour in shaping online discourse.

Ryan Watkins