If You Don’t Agree With This, You’re An Idiot

It’s the modern world I live in,
And I use it when I can
I get all my information
From my common, fellow man
I won’t venture an opinion
Till I see what others think—
And I’ll read it all in pixels,
Cos I cannot wait for ink.
Yes, the internet is perfect
When you cannot wait for ink.

Now, some drama is expected
When you get your news online
Where a claim won’t go unchallenged
(And this happens by design)
A democracy of chaos,
Where the hoi polloi will roar—
When the comments are uncivil
I will listen all the more!
Yes, when comments are uncivil
This will bring them to the fore.

There is vitriol aplenty—
It’s a caustic, nasty mess!
Some may strive, perhaps, to educate,
Still others, to impress—
While yet others play a sort of game,
Where points are won or lost
Where truth and reputation are
A portion of the cost
Yes, respect for fact or person
Is a line that’s often crossed!

When the comments are uncivil
They are given much more weight
So the rude and boorish bastards
Hold more sway in the debate—
There’s no need to point to evidence
Or logic, you can tell—
When the comments thrive on rancor
All you have to do is yell.
Yes, the winner (on the internet)
Is he who best can yell.

In today’s New York Times, an editorial that speaks to the current state of news commentary on the interwebs. The editorial comments on a recent article in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, investigating the relative effect of civil vs uncivil commentary (regarding a nanotechnology issue) on participants’ opinions of nanotechnology’s risks vs benefits.

Ok… if you read the NYTimes article the results are “both surprising and disturbing”.

Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.

In the civil group, those who initially did or did not support the technology — whom we identified with preliminary survey questions — continued to feel the same way after reading the comments. Those exposed to rude comments, however, ended up with a much more polarized understanding of the risks connected with the technology.

But, really… these were not big effects. The sample sizes were large, so significance could be found without really large effects. But… oh, well.

What is strange is that there is no mention in the NYT article of the religious interaction effect. From the paper itself:

Our findings also reveal a significant interaction between religiosity and incivility on risk perception. (beta=-.07;p< .05). Among those exposed to uncivil comments, those with high levels of religiosity were more likely to report higher levels of risk perception and those with low levels of religiosity were more likely to report lower levels of risk perception...

So, yeah… incivility contributes to polarization of positions. Perhaps especially with regard to religious issues. And incivility is a weapon, it appears. Not that it should be, but it is. Incivility and argument should be orthogonal… but it seems, empirically, they are not.

Civility matters, empirically, it seems. And truth matters. And people are more swayed by incivility than by truth, especially where religion is concerned. So… dickishness, on such comment threads, is actually an adaptive trait, contributing to one’s cause?

We are all so screwed.


  1. Cuttlefish says

    This is the most idiotic thing I have ever read–you have to be some extraordinary kind of stupid to believe this!

  2. chrisho-stuart says

    As I read this, I keep wanting to find the corresponding melody by Arthur Sullivan.

  3. janiceintoronto says

    OK then, I’m an idiot.

    I really don’t understand WTF they’re talking about.

  4. Cuttlefish says

    In their study, they followed an informative post with fake comments which varied in their civility (“only an idiot would believe this!”–thus, my comment #1 in this thread), though not in their content. Turns out that uncivil comments led to greater polarization–so those sorts of comments don’t merely reflect polarization, they help cause it!

  5. Joan says

    Cuttlequote: “This is the most idiotic thing I have ever read–you have to be some extraordinary kind of stupid to believe this!”

    (grin) Are you testing out their theory? Oh wow! I thought your poem was spot on.. Now, I’m not so sure. (snerk)

    Seriously, though, I plowed through the whole statistics filled, annotated, crushingly boring original paper and what I got out of it was that those who were not informed about a subject tended to cave or be unsettled by ‘uncivil’ negative comments quicker than those who were. This takes a study to prove? (they didn’t factor in how many times people just get tired of all the caterwauling and shut down comments entirely. ) Also does it take a study to prove that the heavily religious are going to be suspicious of a technology which they perceive as possibly tampering with the natural order? Why the Times skipped addressing the religious factor is anyone’s guess. Had it been our St. Louis Post Dispatch, they would have seen it as too controversial to mess with at all considering how much comment controversy flak they already receive by being perceived as a ‘liberal’ paper. .

    Anyway….. Loved the poem, and you are right. We are soooo screwed.

  6. Ulysses says

    Civility matters, empirically, it seems.

    Fincke must feel overjoyed to be vindicated by the New York Times.

  7. The Rose says

    To All The Chrisho-Stuart’s: Who Are Also Reading This,
    If you really keep on wanting to find corresponding bliss,
    In a melody by Sullivan, or Beethovan, or Liszt,
    You may put that on the…

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