Those who study social media for trends in political discourse need to look further than sites dedicated to politics, as many meaningful—and sometimes less contentious—conversations are going on in everyday online communities, according to new research from the University of Michigan School of Information.

Nearly 50% of political discussions on Reddit take place in subreddit communities whose main topic is not politics. And it is not a few very large nonpolitical communities holding discussions but a “long tail of small communities” that each hold some political content, the researchers say. While the toxicity levels increase when discussing politics in nonpolitical subreddits, the level is much lower than in political subreddits.

“Political talk in nonpolitical spaces is less toxic for both co-partisan and cross-partisan conversations. The latter has been a particular point of concern—cross-partisan animosity is a significant challenge in political communication in the U.S. (both online and offline),” said lead author Ashwin Rajadesingan, doctoral student at the U-M School of Information. “Our study suggests that there are things we can learn from these nonpolitical spaces to improve this discourse.”

Rajadesingan uses as an example a discussion on r/malefashionadvice, a community on men’s fashion. Members on this subreddit don’t normally talk politics every day, he said, but a thread on Bernie’s mittens evolved into discussion about differences in capitalist and socialist systems.

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