There are a lot of news outlets that created their Facebook pages to make news dissemination easier. In addition to that, Facebook allows them to get feedback from people through the comment section. Many of their readers even read comments as well.

The Effect of Reading Online Comments to People

However, it appears that scrolling through comments is not a harmless pastime. In fact, psychology says a lot about online opinions, as well as the way that they affect people.

Is Facebook’s Comments Section the Darkest Place on the Internet – or just a place to buy real Facebook Likes?

The comment sections on news outlets on the secret purchasing of real Facebook likes are seen by many as the darkest place on the internet. A number of online news organizations are even deciding to restrict or ban commenting because they see a huge number of insulting, aggressive, and vitriolic comments by Facebook users. 

In a 2014 study conducted by Pew Research Center, it was found out that approximately one out of five (22 percent) internet users who were victims of online harassment said that it happened in the comments section of a website. 

Needless to say, people tend to become aggressive online. Scientific American said that there are a number of reasons for that. However, the leading reason is users’ anonymity.

Comments debase noticeably when the people who post them can do so without disclosing their identity. For instance, Arthur Santana, a researcher, showed that around 53 percent of the time, anonymous comments can be categorized as “uncivil.” On the other hand, only about 29 percent of not anonymous comments are classified as “uncivil.”

Moreover, anonymity causes an online inhibition effect. This is a psychological phenomenon that happens when accepted social norms stop existing in online contexts. 

On the other hand, psychologist Sherry Turkle noted that people are rude because they tend to dehumanize each other online. In addition, we do not choose the words we use carefully because we don’t see the immediate effect of the thongs we say to other people. The lack of eye contact online is also another proven reason to stir up aggressive behaviors.

The Effect of Reading Online Comments to People

One more reason for bad behavior according to psychology professor Art Markman, online is that comments are lengthier than real speech. Also, a person cannot be interrupted by others when they are writing to express their thoughts. These factors make it easier for them to vent out their anger online. 

The Tone Depends on the Platform

Users of social media platforms such as Facebook are more civil because people are using their real names, unlike those who comment on websites and blogs who can remain anonymous. A content analysis of The Washington Post’s political discussions revealed that comments on the website are significantly more uncivil compared to the same topic’s discussion that the news outlet posted on Facebook.

Moreover, both the platform, as well as the existence of opposite opinions determine how rude people can become. Researchers Thaiane Rezende and Rousiley Maia compared the incivility status of three platforms Facebook, YouTube, and blogs. The two found out that the highest number of personal insults and rude comments exist on YouTube. This is because YouTube users can post comments anonymously.

Negative Comments Affect How People Perceive Messages

Research shows that all the negativity in the comment sections affects how people perceive the real message of a post.

Uncivil comments posted by users, especially on topics that are less familiar to most, influence the way readers interpret the preceding information. 

A study conducted by Ashley Anderson et al. analyzed the opinions of people about nanotechnology after they were presented with an article along with fictitious comments. The study found out that individuals exposed to offensive comments had more polarized opinions regarding the topic. The aforementioned blog post objectively weighed up and explained the risks of nanotechnology. However, the uncivil tine of the fictitious comments played a significant role in increasing the risk perceptions of the readers.

On the other hand, the University of Duisburg-Essen found out that negative comments make articles less persuasive. The researchers conducted an analysis of how readers perceive journalistic articles from reputable news sites when posted on Facebook. The type of user comments, as well as the number of likes that each post had, were varied systematically. 

The researchers found out that negative comments reduce the persuasive influence of the articles. However, positive comments do not have any strengthening effects. 

In addition, the significant amount of likes received by some articles did not do anything to enhance their persuasive value for the readers. This only shows that comments play a greater role compared to the mere quantitative support with one-click interactions. 

Also, it turns out exposure to negativity online makes people’s own thinking negative. Reading uncivil comments can also immediately increase the hostile cognitions of readers. 

To sum everything up, everyone is subject to social influence online. Reading the opinions of other people can significantly affect our own perceptions, thinking, and even our behaviors. 

The Less People Know, the Easier They are to Influence

People who have less knowledge about a particular topic can be easily influenced by opinions. This is true not only for scientific topics. 

In a recent paper publicized by the University of Delaware, researchers examined how comments on social media platforms like Facebook affect voters’ opinions on political candidates. In order to maintain neutrality, the researchers created a Facebook page of a fictitious candidate. After that, they variedly left positive and negative comments on some posts on the page. As expected, positive comments affected the participants’ opinion about the imaginary politician favorably. On the other hand, the negative comments posed the opposite effect.

The Effect of Reading Online Comments to People

However, what is interesting is that the politician’s replies to the comments had no influence at all on how he was perceived.

Furthermore, the experiment is the perfect illustration of how informational influence works. When people have less knowledge about a subject, they seek to trust the opinions of others, regardless if they are accurate or not. 

Needless to say, the comment sections of different platforms on the internet, Facebook, for instance, has a negative effect on people’s perception.


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