Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
The Availability Gap: What We Lose When Netflix Wins The Availability Gap: What We Lose When Netflix Wins Mysteries of Laura Review: Debra Messing on NBC Mysteries of Laura Review: Debra Messing on NBC Daily Reads: The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made, The Last Blockbuster Video Stores and More Daily Reads: The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made, The Last Blockbuster Video Stores and More NY Times TV Critic Writes Article About 'Scandal' Creator Shonda Rhimes as an 'Angry Black Woman' NY Times TV Critic Writes Article About 'Scandal' Creator Shonda Rhimes as an 'Angry Black Woman' Comparing Lena Dunham to Woody Allen Is Unfair — to Lena Dunham Comparing Lena Dunham to Woody Allen Is Unfair — to Lena Dunham 'No Good Deed' Reviews: And the Twist Is That It's Good! (Not Really) 'No Good Deed' Reviews: And the Twist Is That It's Good! (Not Really) Now Streaming: 'Silver Linings Playbook,' 'Beginners' on Netflix Now Streaming: 'Silver Linings Playbook,' 'Beginners' on Netflix 'Ocean's Twelve' Is a Great Sequel About How Hard It Is to Make a Great Sequel 'Ocean's Twelve' Is a Great Sequel About How Hard It Is to Make a Great Sequel Why the Unanimous Praise for 'Boyhood' Is Bad for Film Criticism — and for 'Boyhood' Why the Unanimous Praise for 'Boyhood' Is Bad for Film Criticism — and for 'Boyhood' 'A Walk Among the Tombstones' Reviews: A Liam Neeson Movie Worthy of Liam Neeson 'A Walk Among the Tombstones' Reviews: A Liam Neeson Movie Worthy of Liam Neeson Studio Cancels All Screenings of 'No Good Deed' to Preserve Shocking Twist That It's Probably Terrible Studio Cancels All Screenings of 'No Good Deed' to Preserve Shocking Twist That It's Probably Terrible Daily Reads: Alison Bechdel Likes Non-Bechdel Test Passing Movies, Terry Gilliam's Influence and More Daily Reads: Alison Bechdel Likes Non-Bechdel Test Passing Movies, Terry Gilliam's Influence and More 'Transparent' Reviews: Amazon's New Series Is a Game-Changer 'Transparent' Reviews: Amazon's New Series Is a Game-Changer David Lynch on 'Eraserhead,' Women in the TV Industry David Lynch on 'Eraserhead,' Women in the TV Industry Criticwire Classic of the Week: Werner Herzog's 'Aguirre, the Wrath of God' Criticwire Classic of the Week: Werner Herzog's 'Aguirre, the Wrath of God' 'The Expendables 3' Torrent and the Techno-Utopian Delusion 'The Expendables 3' Torrent and the Techno-Utopian Delusion Newspaper Graciously Offers to Run Aspiring Film Critics' Work Without Charging Them Newspaper Graciously Offers to Run Aspiring Film Critics' Work Without Charging Them 'While We're Young': Noah Baumbach's Xer-Millennial Comedy Ponders the Difference Between Sharing People's Lives and Stealing Them 'While We're Young': Noah Baumbach's Xer-Millennial Comedy Ponders the Difference Between Sharing People's Lives and Stealing Them Daily Reads: Why Toronto Is the Best Place for Female Filmmakers, In Praise of Fincher's Women and More Daily Reads: Why Toronto Is the Best Place for Female Filmmakers, In Praise of Fincher's Women and More The Scrambled Sexuality of 'Frozen's "Let It Go" The Scrambled Sexuality of 'Frozen's "Let It Go"

Study Finds Angry Comments Shape Readers' Interpretations of Online Stories

Criticwire By Matt Singer | Criticwire March 8, 2013 at 12:10PM

Rude Internet commenters aren't just lowering the level of discourse for all of us -- they're also shaping the way we think.
2
Comments

From our Department of Holy Crap, This is Disturbing: an article in The New York Times by Dominique Brossard and Dietram A. Scheufele on the findings of a study they recently published in The Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication about the impact of negative comments on the mindsets of readers of online articles. According to the results of their study, rude Internet commenters aren't just lowering the level of discourse for all of us -- they're also shaping the way we think.

Brossard and Scheufele examined commenters' effect on readers by setting up an experiment: they built a fictitious blog and asked over 1,000 participants to read an article about a tech product called nanosilver. Everyone saw the exact same article on the exact same blog with one important difference: half read a version with "civil" comments and half read a version with "rude" ones:

"The actual content, length and intensity of the comments, which varied from being supportive of the new technology to being wary of the risks, were consistent across both groups. The only difference was that the rude ones contained epithets or curse words, as in: 'If you don’t see the benefits of using nanotechnology in these kinds of products, you’re an idiot' and 'You’re stupid if you’re not thinking of the risks for the fish and other plants and animals in water tainted with silver.'"

In other words, even on the "civil" version commenters were skeptical about nanosilver. The only difference was the skeptics' tone: either rational or irrational. And apparently "uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant's interpretation of the news story itself." Baseline tests prior to reading the article were used to established subjects' predisposition to nanosilver. Those who read the civil version largely held their original opinion; those who read the mean version "ended up with a much more polarized understanding of the risks connected with the technology."

These results suggest that what writers say is often just as important to a reader's understanding of their point as how that point is interpreted by readers' peers. It's groupthink, pure and simple. But it's not just a matter of opinion -- as noted, there were skeptics included in the comments for both pieces -- but the way that opinion was delivered. Essentially, Internet readers can be bullied into submission. Put on a big enough and loud enough show and you can sway people into thinking you know what you're talking about -- even if you're an anonymous person posting something under the name "WangtimusPrime23."

Think of the potential implications here for film criticism. Forget what your garden variety jerks do; can you imagine the possibilities that exist out there to deliberately undermine critics with this theory? Say you're a movie studio with a big tentpole film coming out and an influential, taste-making critic publishes a strongly negative review of your movie. You could hire a few ringers to go into that review's comment section and call the writer a douchebag and shithead and say that whoever listens to them is a goddamn moron. Or even better: just make a couple of interns do it, and make them do it multiple times under aliases. If this study is correct, then pretty soon anyone who goes to the trouble to read the comments below the review could wind up with a seriously tainted opinion of the original article. The cynic in me worries about this happening. The conspiracy theorist in me worries it already does.

Read more of "This Story Stinks."

This article is related to: From the Wire


E-Mail Updates