January 4, 2013
An opinion piece in the journal Science (paywall) suggests that readers are influenced by online comments on a story as much as they are by the story itself, according to an article by Mark Johnson in the Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin said they did a study in which they prepared a balanced news report about nanotechnology and showed it to two groups of readers. One group saw civil comments; the other saw uncivil comments and name-calling. "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 the study's authors, Dominique Brossard and Dietram A. Scheufele, according to Johnson's story.