If you are reading this article on the Internet, stop afterward and think about it. Then scroll to the bottom and read the commentary. If there isn’t any, try a Web site that allows comments, preferably one that is very political. Then recheck your views.
Chances are your thinking will have changed, especially if you have read a series of insulting, negative or mocking remarks — as so often you will. Once upon a time, it seemed as if the Internet would be a place of civilized and open debate; now, unedited forums often deteriorate to insult exchanges. Like it or not, this matters: Multiple experiments have shown that perceptions of an article, its writer or its subject can be profoundly shaped by anonymous online commentary, especially if it is harsh. One group of researchers found that rude comments “not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.” A digital analyst at Atlantic Media also discovered that people who read negative comments were more likely to judge that an article was of low quality and, regardless of the content, to doubt the truth of what it stated. Read on »