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.
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...
"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."