Awful online comments hurt understanding of news, reports local news site filled with awful online comments
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Everyone knows that the comment section of a news website is typically nothing more than a cesspool of semi-anonymous trolls spouting off ill-informed opinions and the occasional racist zingers. Sure, some sites have a classier clientele, but for the most part, it’s best to simply whistle past the graveyard and ignore the hysterical arguments about Obama, socialism, and the evils of the liberal media that inevitably crop up in stories about funny local pets. But according to a new study from two University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers, awful online comments may not only be soul crushing and annoying, they may also be harmful to one’s understanding of the news—specifically, science news. And who better to report on this story than Wisconsin’s undisputed champ of awful online comments, the Journal Sentinel?
Ah yes, the Journal Sentinel comment section: a bastion of calm, reasonable, and erudite readers that have inspired countless A.V. Club stories and an entire website. But before we attempt to wrap our heads around the fact that the Journal Sentinel is reporting on a story about the dangers of shitty online comments, let’s dig into the study in question:
The new study reports that not only are just 12% of Americans turning to newspaper and magazine websites for science news, but when they do they may be influenced as much by the comments at the end of the story as they are by the report itself.
In an experiment mentioned in the Science paper and soon to be published elsewhere in greater detail, 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.
As you might imagine, this story has already produced plenty of dunderheaded, distracting, and tone-deaf comments—just as the prophecy foretold!—over on the JS site. Here’s one from frequent commenter and likely shut-in bagman00:
Let’s see: The global warming ruse was base on fraud not science. Fair media reporting, xnay to that one. Lack of real science being taught in the schools rather than students being steered towards an opinionated solution. University of Wisconsin Professors bewildered by science opinion being questioned rather than being accepted as told. Progressives trying to control information and getting called out when they are misinforming have their feelings hurt.
Exactly, bagman00, exactly. Wait. What were we talking about? Whatever—join the conversation!