Monday, January 7, 2013

Online Comments Matter

I hate anonymous online comments.  As a guy who's used the Net since 1987, anonymity seemed at first a good idea, a way of leveling the playing field.  Over the years, though, as more and more people found their way to the Internet in the mid-1990s, I've changed my mind.

People suck.

Okay, not everyone sucks, but a lot of them suck.  Nutjobs, wingnuts, partisan hacks, they've filled the Net with vitriol, idiotic commentary, and just plain nastiness.

They also apparently affect how we read a news story.

Take, for example, this story about a soon-to-be-published study that finds people "may be influenced as much by the comments at the end of the story as they are by the report itself." 

The study is based on a story about nanotechnology.  People were randomly assigned to either a story with civil comments or one, ahem, without much civility.  In other words, the usual crap you see on most news sites.  The tone of the comments, the authors found, can influence people's attitudes about the science.  And how much subjects knew in advance about science, often considered a mediating factor, did little to offset this unfortunately effect.

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