hero working papers

Disengaging from Reality: Online Behavior and Unpleasant Political News

Number: 687
Year: 2023
Author(s): Leonardo D’Amico, Guido Tabellini

We study how individuals comment on political news posted on Reddit’s main political forum during the 2016 US Presidential Election. We show that partisan users behave very differently from independents if the news is bad for a candidate. They avoid commenting unfavorable polls and scandals on their favorite candidate, but seek such news on its opponent. When they do comment bad news on their favorite candidate, they try to rationalize it, display a more negative sentiment, and are more likely to cite scandals of the opponent. This behavior is consistent with motivated reasoning, and with the predictions of a model of costly attention, where the cost of attention depends on whether the news is pleasant or unpleasant.