The naysayers’ strategy of flooding comment sections with ignorant contempt seems to work according to a new study from UW-Madison:
n an experiment mentioned in the Science paper and soon to be published elsewhere in greater detail, about 2,000 people were asked to read a balanced news report about nanotechnology followed by a group of invented comments. All saw the same report but some read a group of comments that were uncivil, including name-calling. Others saw more civil comments.
“Disturbingly, readers’ interpretations of potential risks associated with the technology described in the news article differed significantly depending only on the tone of the manipulated reader comments posted with the story,” wrote authors Dominique Brossard and Dietram A. Scheufele.
“In other words, just the tone of the comments . . . can significantly alter how audiences think about the technology itself.”
Content doesn’t matter as much. Our intuitions are not tuned to the possibility of motivated virtual flash mobs. We perceive the tone of the conversation as representative of our peers and adjust ourselves accordingly. We don’t have the capacity to think rationally about everything, so we substitute coarse judgments, which can be manipulated. That is why we we are being gamed left and right.