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article imageBe wary of the Nasty Effect — Internet trolls swaying opinions

By Lesley Lanir     Mar 6, 2014 in Internet
Can internet trolls use their nasty, inflammatory and often derogatory comments on blogs, news sites, social media networks and any other open discussion pages to change attitudes of readers? One study says, yes. So should there be concern?
A study, 'The ‘‘Nasty Effect:’’ Online Incivility and Risk Perceptions of Emerging Technologies,' part of a larger study published online last month in The Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication explores incivility's role in changing attitudes of readers who read comments on posts on internet sites. This smaller study, involving 1,183 participants, shows that incensed comments can interrupt the "democratic goal" of "enrich[ing] public deliberation," at least on the topic of emerging technologies which this research looked into.
Half of the sample read civil comments and the other half rude and hostile ones such as:
“If you don’t see the benefits of using nanotechnology in these kinds of products, you’re an idiot” or “You’re stupid if you’re not thinking of the risks for the fish and other plants and animals in water tainted with silver.”
Dominique Brossard and Dietram A. Scheufele, two of the authors of the article, commented on their research results in an article where they state they are surprised and disturbed by the fact that results show that rude comments do manage to polarize and change a reader's interpretation of a news story.
Regarding concern about trolling as a method of influencing readers' perceptions and whether this is a concern or not, the researchers say that it's difficult to quantify the detrimental effects of such online nastiness from "non-expert, and sometimes rude individuals" but they feel it is significant in the areas of news about science seeing as approximately 60 percent of the Americans searching for information on scientific topics use the Internet as the primary source of information.
So if internet trolls are rampant and do sway opinion, and the public is aware of this, why don't people refrain from reading comments and form their own opinions from the facts and sources given in an article?
More about Internet trolls, trolls, nasty effect, Scientific research
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