If online news articles are accompanied by negative comments, the readers will find the articles less credible, T Franklin Waddell, of University of Florida, discovered. Waddell conducted an online experiment with 289 Americans, who were exposed to a news story about heroin addiction.
In the experiment participants viewed the same news article, but under eight different conditions. Sometimes the article was depicted as one of many stories on the same issue (or not), sometimes it appeared as widely endorsed on social media (or not), and sometimes it was praised in comments (and sometimes it was criticized). The participants were then surveyed over their perceptions of the story and the issue.
Most notably, negative comments clearly reduced the perceived credibility of the article. Negative comments also undermined the perceived importance of the article’s topic: even when the participants were exposed to a Twitter feed where five out of eight articles dealt with heroin addiction, negative comments still made heroin addiction appear less important of an issue.
It appears negative comments are able to override traditional indicators of issue importance and news quality, Waddell warns. News organisations should thus carefully consider ways to counter this effect – be it through comment moderation, or by simply doing away with comments altogether, the author concludes.
The article “What does the crowd think?” was published by the journal New Media & Society. It is available online on the publisher’s website (abstract free).
Picture: Untitled by Andrew Martin, licence CC0 1.0.