At the back end of last year I wrote about some research revealing the importance of a blog receiving comments in order to maintain the motivation of the blogger. The research found that the number of comments we receive was a good indication of the level of connection we have with our community.
Not all comments are created equally though are they? I mean most blogs attract a fair amount of spam, and whilst mods such as akismet are fantastic at keeping most of it out, some do drift through. More damaging though are the kind of comments submitted by real people that are simply a pain in the backside. The kind submitted by trolls in other words.
Some new research has looked at the impact of comments on the reporting of scientific news, so serious stuff. The study got around 2,500 people to read various blog posts. The text of the articles were the same, but the comments on them varied, with some amazing results.
For instance, on an article about nanotechnology, when there was name calling in the comments, it polarised perceptions of risk, depending upon the readers predisposition towards the nanotechnology.
"It seems we don't really have a clear social norm about what is expected online," says Brossard, a UW-Madison professor of Life Science Communication, contrasting online forums with public meetings where prescribed decorum helps keep discussion civil. "In the case of blog postings, it's the Wild West."
For potentially controversial issues that are still relatively unknown in the public eyes, this matters. Alot.
"When people encounter an unfamiliar issue like nanotechnology, they often rely on an existing value such as religiosity or deference to science to form a judgment," explains Ashley Anderson, a postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University and the lead author of the upcoming study in the Journal of Computer Mediated Communication.
If the reader is religious for instance, the rude comments were found to heighten the readers negative feelings towards the topic. With the web an increasingly influential method for information discovery, this research should be a clear warning to publishers that they should not let the comments section of their blogs descend into the wild west.