Reading user comments to online news stories does not significantly affect the readers’ evaluations of the story, write Nili Steinfeld and Azi Lev-On, both of Ariel University, and Tal Samuel-Azran, of Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (names not in original order). The authors showed 197 Israeli college students online news stories and tracked their eye movements, and interviewed the participants afterwards.
The researchers combined the stories with selections of comments that were either mixed, opposed to, or supportive of the basic claim made in the stories. Approximately 40 per cent of the participants were detected to read the comments, and engagement with the comments notably increased the time spent with the story, the authors note.
Reading the comments, however, had barely any effect on how the participants perceived the story. Instead, the participants’ pre-existing assumptions were decisive to the opinion they came to have of the stories. The results are contrary to much of the contemporary literature on the topic of reader comments, the authors remark.
The article User comments and public opinion was published by the journal Computers in Human Behaviour. It is available online (abstract free).
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