Tone Of Comments Affects Perception Of Online Article's Content

from the who-are-you-calling-names? dept

One of the defining characteristics of online journalism is the possibility for readers to respond immediately, and to debate with each other in the comments -- something that was much harder and slower in pre-digital days. Generally, that has been regarded as welcome, since it means that authors can engage more easily with their readers, and the latter become active participants rather than simply passive recipients.

However, some research in the field of science journalism suggests that there might be a serious downside to this ability of the readers to express their views freely:

about 2,000 people were asked to read a balanced news report about nanotechnology followed by a group of invented comments. All saw the same report but some read a group of comments that were uncivil, including name-calling. Others saw more civil comments.

"Disturbingly, readers' interpretations of potential risks associated with the technology described in the news article differed significantly depending only on the tone of the manipulated reader comments posted with the story," wrote authors Dominique Brossard and Dietram A. Scheufele.

"In other words, just the tone of the comments . . . can significantly alter how audiences think about the technology itself."
Although the research was about science articles, it would be reasonable to assume a similar effect occurs for most kinds of online journalism, with "uncivil" comments leading to skewed perceptions of the matter being discussed. Good thing Techdirt readers never resort to name calling...

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Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    silverscarcat (profile), Apr 1st, 2014 @ 2:59pm

    Name calling? Never!

    You damn, dirty liberal hippie! Why would you say such a thing about the nice people around here?

    Also, your mother was a hamster and your father smells of elderberries.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Apr 1st, 2014 @ 4:10pm

    Re: Name calling? Never!

    Now go away or I shall taunt you a second time!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    icon
    That One Guy (profile), Apr 1st, 2014 @ 4:12pm

    Luckily, the trolls around here tend to be more humorous than anger-building, as they go with the exact same debunked arguments they've been using for years, copying, intentionally or not, the complete lack of originality built into their idols in the 'entertainment' industry with regards to coming up with new material.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 1st, 2014 @ 4:21pm

    Well done Captain Obvious

    Humans influenced by what they read. WTF?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
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    art guerrilla (profile), Apr 1st, 2014 @ 4:23pm

    its possible...

    its also possible this is all-too-typical 'soft-science' bullshit...
    the one thing i can pick apart without knowing what the particulars are, is how do they know that one of the 'nasty' comments didn't have the germ of some reasonable objection which swayed the reader when presented 'nastily', but went otherwise unnoticed when presented 'neutrally' ? ? ?
    in other words, i find it difficult to believe they can -in fact- 'neutrally' portray comments...

     

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  6.  
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    Mason Wheeler (profile), Apr 1st, 2014 @ 4:24pm

    In other news, water is wet

    This is just basic human psychology. The brain remembers things based on associations, and when your first impression of something is full of negativity, you have negative associations with the concept.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
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    Watchit, Apr 1st, 2014 @ 4:28pm

    Bullshit, I don't believe a word of it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    icon
    Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile), Apr 1st, 2014 @ 4:29pm

    DEAR GOD

    IT'S FINALLY HAPPENED

    *gathers canned goods and sharpened sticks and prepares for the apocalypse.*

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    icon
    Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile), Apr 1st, 2014 @ 4:37pm

    Re:

    *hurries back to grab as much wi-fi as possible and shove it into the largest suitcase*

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    icon
    Internet Zen Master (profile), Apr 1st, 2014 @ 4:40pm

    Exhibit A

    Recently Ars has been closely following the outcry of some tech community over the fact that Mozilla's new CEO, Brendan Eich [who describes himself as not especially religious], made ONE donation of $1,000 to that mess known as Prop 8 back in '08. Not actively involved mind you, just one simple donation of funds. Since he's been appointed CEO there have been people publicly pressuring him, from outside and inside the company, to step down from that role because of that contribution.

    The comment sections of those articles have been the most vitriolic sections I've ever seen on Ars. The majority of the comments immediately condemn Eich as a hateful anti-gay bigot and/or Mozilla as hypocritical for appointing him CEO.

    Now every time I see a new article about the subject, my mind goes 'oh great, how is Ars going to vilify Mozilla's new CEO this time?' even though the site's just reporting the mess and not actually publicly shaming Eich for his views.

    So yeah, this research seems right on the money, at least as far as this topic goes.

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 1st, 2014 @ 4:54pm

    Re:

    Humor is preferred for sure. But there is truly nothing new under the sun. Everything anyone says has already been said and done. It's really difficult to come up with anything original, take your very own post. I have seen this type of post almost word for word on just about every site ever, trying to 1 up the trolls.

    But... we are all trolls... I mean they, I mean ME & YOU will be coming back for more because that is just human nature.

    The very definition of a troll is just someone who holds a position (sincerely or not) that is willing to fight you over it. Kinda makes us all trolls... since you do have an opinion and all.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 1st, 2014 @ 4:56pm

    Re: Re:

    do not... forget... the porn!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
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    MondoGordo (profile), Apr 1st, 2014 @ 4:59pm

    Re: Name calling? Never!

    I believe that quote is "your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    Zos (profile), Apr 1st, 2014 @ 5:00pm

    first off, get fucked skipper. second, is this an april fools i'm not getting? didn't we just go through this when the big science website disabled comments 6 months or so ago?

     

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  15.  
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    MondoGordo (profile), Apr 1st, 2014 @ 5:06pm

    No ...

    A troll is someone who baits his audience without actually having any skin in the game, someone who doesn't have an opinion, but advocates the opposite position as provocatively and insultingly as he's able for the sake of his own entertainment.

    That is a TROLL!!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    Mason Wheeler (profile), Apr 1st, 2014 @ 5:23pm

    Re: Exhibit A

    Diversity for me, not for thee...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 1st, 2014 @ 5:53pm

    Re: No ...

    No, a troll is someone who baits his audience. He can have some skin in the game.

    A masterful troll can bait for a response while posting his honest, sincere opinion. It's the way the troll writes that matters: he wants to incite a response, and that the response will also incite another response, and so on, until the whole forum is consumed by flames.

    This is my honest, sincere opinion.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 1st, 2014 @ 5:59pm

    I always read the whole article, but I don't always read all the comments. At most I skim through comments. Usually the first two sentences of someone's comment determines if I'm interested in it or not.

    If I wrote online articles, I imagine there would be many days where I wouldn't read the comments for my own articles, because I wouldn't want to let obnoxious trolls criticizing my work and ruin my mood.

    I seriously hope people are able to form their own opinion and view independently. If they can't, then that's the problem science journalism, should have been focusing on.

    People unable to form their own opinions and views, is a much more serious issue than trolls in the comment section.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Matthew A. Sawtell, Apr 1st, 2014 @ 6:20pm

    So, have 'The Monsters of the ID' have been recognized as fact?

    So, have 'The Monsters of the ID' have been recognized as fact? So be it, but will we be any better that the Krell from that long lost Forbidden Planet? Depends, we could attempt to adjust the picture, like banning the use of subliminal messages on television, and realize that the place that is beyond sight and sound is still tempered, like all media before it, by human hands.

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 1st, 2014 @ 7:24pm

    Re: Re: No ...

    ...no comments so far. I suck at trolling.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    John, Apr 1st, 2014 @ 8:18pm

    Same as physical articles?

    Isn't that the same with physical articles? I read a newspaper and discuss the story with family, friends & associates and they give their opinion. Those opinions would vary and possibly influence my reading of the article. Obviously with online articles the number of comments is more than the number of people I might talk to about the article but the effect is the same. i.e. we are influenced by those around us.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 1st, 2014 @ 8:20pm

    Re: No ...

    I guess I should have spelled it out better.

    I wanted to draw a parallel between people calling people trolls just because they did not like what they said, in the same vein that people eventually devolve to calling people Hitler when they feel they are losing the argument.

    I am aware that there is a real meaning to the word, but people don't bother with such things. That is why we are all trolls.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 1st, 2014 @ 8:23pm

    Re: Re: Exhibit A

    Its more like, my morals are superior to yours and should me the power to silence those I hate and/or provide for complete character assassination as needed.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 1st, 2014 @ 8:30pm

    Appropriately enough the comments section at the linked article are amusingly predictable:

    "pointy headed scientists, 99% of whom are socialists and communists", "Practically all journalists are scientific illiterates" and so on.

    It's hard to tell the sarcasm from the devout over there. Not like here.

    But both articles (this and the linked) fail to include any reference to the original research. I rest my case.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
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    vegetaman (profile), Apr 1st, 2014 @ 8:37pm

    It really depends on a person's outlook on comments. It depends on if you can find any obvious bias in the story, any sources for data in the story, or any sources in the comments to prove the story is wrong or faulty. And on many sites, comments are youtube level failure. Like on reddit, which I browse from time to time, I always read the comments because undoubtedly somebody has posted a very good rebuttal of why the article or study is flawed or sensationalist, or somebody in the field explains in better terms why it is important or what the applications are. And then there's the bias of if you are reading about something in your own field. That's a lot of factors to control for, just right there!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
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    Watchit (profile), Apr 1st, 2014 @ 9:26pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    That's what the wifi is fore ;)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 2nd, 2014 @ 1:45am

    brought to you by: M.I.S.P.W.O.S.O.

    the Maximegalon institute of slowly and painfully working out the surprisingly obvious

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    icon
    G Thompson (profile), Apr 2nd, 2014 @ 1:57am

    Re: Re: Name calling? Never!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
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    G Thompson (profile), Apr 2nd, 2014 @ 1:59am

    Re: Re: Name calling? Never!

    and I suppose your one of those bloody Romans... bastards trying to grammatically correct every damn thing anyone says!

    ROMANES EUNT DOMUS!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
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    G Thompson (profile), Apr 2nd, 2014 @ 2:02am

    Re: Re: Re: No ...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    icon
    Ninja (profile), Apr 2nd, 2014 @ 2:47am

    Re:

    Got a place in your apocalypse-proof bunker? I thought we'd never see this coming to life! The end is near!

    I can provide Pringles and Coke.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
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    Ninja (profile), Apr 2nd, 2014 @ 2:49am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    fore..play?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 2nd, 2014 @ 3:24am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Is that 'skin' in the game?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
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    Violynne (profile), Apr 2nd, 2014 @ 4:31am

    I can get behind this article quite easily.

    Every time I see out_of_the_blue post, I want to punch someone, but mostly him.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
    icon
    Lance (profile), Apr 2nd, 2014 @ 5:36am

    To paraphrase one of my favorite SNL skits...

    Glen, you ignorant slut!

    Don't you know that this is just more liberal dribble-drabble; meant to inflame the sensibilities of the uprightly indignant. This smacks of whore-mongering and unrequited humor. I simply won't stand by while you attempt to stifle my mean spirited commentary, just because your "science" says it might make others less receptive to your writings.

    < /hyperbole >

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    identicon
    Just Another Anonymous Troll, Apr 2nd, 2014 @ 6:42am

    So if I see an article about the NSA, I should go flame it to turn public opinion against the NSA? Seems illogical, but then again there are many illogical people on the planet, so I guess that is how it works.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 2nd, 2014 @ 7:56am

    So what gives the person writing the article exclusive authority to 'set the tone'?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
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    GMacGuffin (profile), Apr 2nd, 2014 @ 9:07am

    Re:

    Now that my favorite Crystal Ball teaser has seen the light of day, I will have to find a new obsession.

    (I did enjoy the tone of comments in the [tellingly old] source article though.)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
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    Fushta (profile), Apr 2nd, 2014 @ 9:21am

    Re:

    read your first few lines...didn't read the rest.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
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    James Jensen (profile), Apr 2nd, 2014 @ 9:25am

    Re: Re: Re: Name calling? Never!

    People called "Romanes" they go the house?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
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    nasch (profile), Apr 2nd, 2014 @ 9:36am

    Re: Re: No ...

    I am aware that there is a real meaning to the word, but people don't bother with such things. That is why we are all trolls.

    That sounds like something Hitler would say.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
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    Ninja (profile), Apr 2nd, 2014 @ 9:36am

    Re: Re:

    There's another tone of comments hovering (the bitter one). Hah!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), Apr 2nd, 2014 @ 9:50am

    Re: Well done Captain Obvious

    Humans influenced by what they read. WTF?

    This is about a specific way they are influenced, not whether they're influenced.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), Apr 2nd, 2014 @ 10:15am

    Re: brought to you by: M.I.S.P.W.O.S.O.

    the Maximegalon institute of slowly and painfully working out the surprisingly obvious

    Interestingly, scientists run experiments about things rather than assuming that the obvious is correct.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45.  
    icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), Apr 2nd, 2014 @ 10:22am

    Re: Re: Re: Exhibit A

    Yeah, pretty much. I wonder how many of the sheep blindly jumping on the character assassination bandwagon actually know who Brendan Eich is and how much good he's done for them.

    Just for starters, he was one of the main engineers on the original Netscape browser project, and the inventor of JavaScript. I'm not gonna pull out any old memes that would be as silly about him as about Al Gore, but it's safe to say that the World Wide Web as we know it, including the very activism sites driving this campaign of anti-bigotry bigotry, would not exist today without him.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46.  
    icon
    G Thompson (profile), Apr 2nd, 2014 @ 2:44pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Name calling? Never!

    oh NO it doesn't....

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47.  
    icon
    BernardoVerda (profile), Apr 2nd, 2014 @ 4:45pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Exhibit A

    Or maybe that's not quite the way it happened?
    (neither the Eich story, nor the Ars comments).

    Head over to Ars and check it out, yourself.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  48.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Apr 3rd, 2014 @ 6:45am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Exhibit A

    I have been incredibly disappointed at the reaction to Eich's promotion. It's despicable.

    Especially considering that there is plenty of reason to heap scorn on him for the greater sin of inventing JavaScript.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  49.  
    identicon
    Pragmatic, Apr 7th, 2014 @ 5:37am

    Re: Re: Exhibit A

    ...and that's why I hate being lumped in with Liberals. Seriously, don't get me started...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  50.  
    identicon
    Pragmatic, Apr 7th, 2014 @ 5:38am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Exhibit A

    He gave us JavaScript? I don't like Eich.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  51.  
    identicon
    Pragmatic, Apr 7th, 2014 @ 5:43am

    Re:

    ...which raises the question, what gives the person writing comments the authority to 'lower the tone?'

    I can't abide authoritarianism, whatever flag they're waving.

    In any case, you've answered your own question, AC @7:56am. The writer is free to write as he sees fit and the commenters are free to write as they see fit, with neither asking permission of the other as to the tone or the setting thereof. It is up to the readers to decide whether or not to be influenced by either the articles or the comments.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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