On March 2, The New York Times published an op-ed written by researchers who determined that the tone of reader comments below an article can change the way that readers perceive what they just read.
Their study, published in The Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, asked more than 1,000 participants to read a fake news post on a fake blog, explaining the risks and benefits of a new technology, then to read the comments below the post—half of the participants were exposed to civil comments, while half read comments that were "rude," containing "epithets or curse words."
From the Times article, "This Story Stinks":
In the civil group, those who initially did or did not support the technology — whom we identified with preliminary survey questions — continued to feel the same way after reading the comments. Those exposed to rude comments, however, ended up with a much more polarized understanding of the risks connected with the technology.
Simply including an ad hominem attack in a reader comment was enough to make study participants think the downside of the reported technology was greater than they'd previously thought.
The concern that these researchers expressed focuses mostly on the impact such opinions would have on topics of scientific research.
But what's particularly striking to me is the way such attacks change the thinking of commenters on news sources. Take, for instance, Tom Danehy's Jan. 10 column, wherein he challenges the arguments gun owners make for loosening gun control restrictions.
Of the 42 comments there, I'm having trouble remembering a single comment that doesn't call someone an idiot, that doesn't disparage other commenters (or Danehy) for their opinions, that doesn't toss out a logical fallacy in order to further the point they're trying to make with the numbers they've plucked from blogs or outside writers (liberal and conservative alike).
I know those other comments exist. Hell, I just read them. But I can't recall them, because all I can think about is how one commenter kept making a big deal out of supposed outcry against "violent imagery," or how another made an impotency joke against those who want to protect ownership rights they're concerned about losing.
Unfortunately, these kinds of comments breed a combination of blind ideological support and ignorance of the facts. As someone who goes to bed, hoping to find reasonable discourse in the section below a story about Mexican-American studies and instead finding raving comments about Aztlán, or White History Month, this is disheartening, and dammit, it needs to change.
The Week On Our Blogs
On The Range, we kicked off Blogislature 2013; shared the opening date for Ari Shapiro's new pizza venture, Falora; congratulated Tucsonan Alex Bowman on his third-place finish in the DRIVE4COPD 300; listened to Ron Barber's plea to fight the sequestration cuts and negotiate a deal; made fun of ASU some more; watched as Tom Danehy spirals further into a 'Girls'-related depression; half-heartedly looked into the Tucson Boom; urged you to pay attention to non-Wildcat Tucson sports stars; and more!
On We Got Cactus, we looked at the new lengths being taken to prevent illegal downloading and piracy; reviewed Robbie Fulks' trip to the Old Pueblo; considered taking in a Diplo and 2 Chainz concert at the ol' slaughterhouse; streamed the hell out of the 'Sound City' soundtrack; got ourselves prepped for SXSW 2013; and more!
Comment of the Week
"Don't tell "ANYONE", but there is a Detour around the Detour, which only adds about 2 miles to the Original route, no big trucks though." TucsonWeekly.com user "cempiremtn," with a tip to avoid the I-10 detour set to roll out this weekend ("Do Your Friday Night Plans Involve a Road Trip to New Mexico? If So, Leave Early" The Range, March 4).
Best of WWW
We've been inching closer and closer to the mythical (read: kinda impressive) figure of 9,000 likes on Facebook and 9,000 followers on Twitter. To honor the upcoming Double 9K, we'll be taking suggestions from you, our friends, fans and followers, for ways to celebrate. Now, I can't promise any re-enactments of popular memes, but if it's legal, we can at least try and push our interns into doing it. I mean, it's not like they have futures they want to hold on to, right?