When I read news articles on-line I now make a conscious habit of not reading the comments. It turns out this is probably a good thing for more reasons than just that the comments are often annoying. As one commentator noted, “The online peanut gallery can get you so riled up that your ability to reason goes out the window.”
A recent study by George Mason University, using a story about nanotechnology, concluded that rude or “flaming” comments polarized the audience and made people entrench in their own beliefs so they are less open to listening to the other side. According to this study, merely reading the comments makes one respond emotionally and the thinking process is therefore more defensive.
I wonder how much this “on-line culture,” in which nasty, rude, and inflammatory comments are the norm, has contributed to the overall partisan nature of politics in the USA. I wonder if disabling the comments section for newspapers—forcing people to go back to the “old school” methods of letters-to-the-editor (which are not all published) might be helpful. Or is the genie so firmly out of the bottle that there is no going back?
The recent piece, “The Science of Why Comment Trolls Suck,” describing the George Mason study can be seen here.