Hugh Pickens writes "The Web is a place for unlimited exchange of ideas. But according to an NPR report, researchers have found that rude comments on articles can change the way we interpret the news. 'It's a little bit like the Wild West. The trolls are winning,' says Dominique Brossard, co-author of the study on the so-called 'Nasty Effect.' Researchers worked with a science writer to construct a balanced news story on the pros and cons of nanotechnology, a topic chosen so that readers would have to make sense of a complicated issue with low familiarity. They then asked 1,183 subjects to review the blog post from a Canadian newspaper that discussed the water contamination risks of nanosilver particles and the antibacterial benefits. Half saw the story with polite comments, and the other half saw rude comments, like: 'If you don't see the benefits of using nanotechnology in these products, you're an idiot.' People that were exposed to the polite comments didn't change their views really about the issue covering the story, while the people that did see the rude comments became polarized — they became more against the technology that was covered in the story. Brossard says we need to have an anchor to make sense of complicated issues. 'And it seems that rudeness and incivility is used as a mental shortcut to make sense of those complicated issues.' Brossard says there's no quick fix for this issue (PDF), and while she thinks it's important to foster conversation through comments sections, every media organization has to figure out where to draw the line when comments get out of control. 'It's possible that the social norms in this brave new domain will change once more — with users shunning meanspirited attacks from posters hiding behind pseudonyms and cultivating civil debate instead,' writes Brossard. 'Until then, beware the nasty effect.'"
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