The Nasty Effect

25 Jun The Nasty Effect

300px-20_years_of_must_see_tv-resized-600.jpgThese shows aren’t optional, you cavalier bastards!

Old stories never die; they just fade away into obscurity. Or maybe it’s more like that infamous NBC ad campaign promoting Must-See TV re-runs in the 90s. (“If you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you!” — remember that?)


Typewriters: If you never bought one, its a new product.

Anyway here’s an old story from March that I’d been meaning to blog about for a while now, but I just kept getting caught up in work, and sports, and — let’s be honest — unwatched re-runs of The Single Guy


Your eyes do not deceive you: That is, in fact, the late Ernest Borgnine.

The premise of the story is this: In the New York Times Sunday Review, Dominique Brossard and Dietram A. Scheufele reported on a study from the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication.

(And can I just say: Who amongst us hasn’t seen their communications better mediated by computers — mostly, for me, to the tune of pretending to listen to things while I play on my iPhone.)

To the Grey Lady:

“We asked 1,183 participants to carefully read a news post on a fictitious blog, explaining the potential risks and benefits of a new technology product called nanosilver.”

Sidebar: Already want one. Okay back to the study…

“Then we had participants read comments on the post… Half of our sample was exposed to civil reader comments and the other half to rude ones.”

Now this next part is key (my emphasis):

“The actual content, length and intensity of the comments, which varied from being supportive of the new technology to being wary of the risks, were consistent across both groups. The only difference was that the rude ones contained epithets or curse words. The results were both surprising and disturbing. Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.

Couple of thoughts on this:

1. How great are block quotes? I mean they really beef up a blog post, don’t they?

2. So let me get this straight… I’m measurably less persuasive if I say, “The Purge was awesome,” than if I say, “The Purge was awesome, you stupid moron.”

I guess this explains why I kept losing all those arguments on the playground in 1st grade, and also the enduring power of JFK’s immortal words: “Ask not what your country can do for you… you stupid moron.”

How scary is this though, and what does it say about our psychological susceptibility? I guess it explains the influence of conservative talk radio… and maybe all talk radio — especially that bully Lynne Rosetto Kasper.

My real point, of course, is that this proves once and for all how corrosive and unhelpful reader comments on blogs have become.

Seriously, has there ever been an Internet discussion that didn’t eventually devolve into:

Guy 1: “I’m gonna come to your house and kill you!”
Guy 2: “Oh yeah. Here’s the address. I’ll be waiting for you, cause you don’t have the guts to show up.”

(And that was just an argument about fabric softener!)

But what’s the answer? Turn off comments altogether like some fascist, Snowden-harboring South American police state? Or maybe we should have the schools teach young people to add more personal invective into their key arguments — ‘cuz ya gotta learn ’em young!

Pivoting slightly, please leave your comments below, the more personally insulting and outlandish the better. Pummel me enough, and I might just start to agree with you. It’s called science — and it’s super depressing.

Jonathan Katz
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