Bad news today for folks who like their information well-organized, detailed and free from the sway of hostile attacks in the comment section.
Nasty comments have been creating problems for a while and now there's scientific evidence. I first wrote about The Nasty Effect (the researchers words, not mine) in a post a couple months ago. The NY Times just published an op-ed from the researchers with the memorable title This Story Stinks! To refresh, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison had readers evaluate a new technology but first manipulated the tone of the comments following the news story:
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.
Simply including an ad hominem attack in a reader comment was enough to make study participants think the downside of the reported technology was greater than they’d previously thought. This Story Stinks, New York Times
Speaking of the power of a single anonymous comment...in other social media research news, there's this somewhat disturbing discovery, The Facebook Effect.
People remember Facebook posts better than human faces, information from books or traditional news articles.
Forget trying to persuade or inform people with paragraphs or chapters. Write as few words as possible and do it quickly. The human mind seems particularly sweet on spontaneously-generated chunks of inane chatter, even anonymous blather from perfect strangers with nothing interesting to say.
Here's the social media memory low-down straight from the University of San Diego
In “Major Memory for Microblogs,” the researchers report that Facebook status updates were about one and a half times more memorable than sentences from books and almost two and a half times more memorable than faces. And these were not the status updates of the study participants’ friends but rather 200 anonymous posts (gathered by undergraduate assistants blind to the hypothesis). The tests were self-paced recognition tests.
“We were really surprised,” said first author Laura Mickes, doctoral alumna of UC San Diego’s department of psychology, now a visiting scholar at UC San Diego and a senior research fellow at the University of Warwick. “These kinds of gaps in performance are on a scale similar to the differences between amnesiacs and people with healthy memory.” University of San Diego News
The surprised researchers* suggest this brief fluff is like catnip to our brains
...the researchers suspect, these digital communications are “mind-ready.” Virtual chatter is pretty close to actual chatting in real life – to what we “naturally put out.” Language we generate without much effort, it seems, is both what we ingest most willingly and readily – and what we remember best.
BTW, people recalled reader comments even better than Facebook posts.
I am so tempted to write 140 character posts all next month in a completely unscientific completely unrepresentative naturalistic study. No proof reading or editing of any kind. In fact maybe I'll just tweet my posts in the future. Yeah? Nay?