March 5th, 2013
I just read an interesting article on the FastCo Design blog, part of FastCompany magazine. The post discusses the findings of a study carried out by some life sciences academics, which were published in the New York Times on the weekend.
The question the researchers set out to answer was:
Do nasty comments online have a detrimental effect on a reader’s opinion of the original article or story being commented on?
A really interesting question, a highly relevant question considering all of the debate around trolling and the lack of social filters and norms on digital media. Does the whirlwind of trolling effect the perceived reputation of a product or article?
The study looked particularly at the effect of trolling on new technologies. As new technologies are by definition new and untested, they require a leap of faith for early adopters. If there is a flurry of highly negative commentary about a new technology or product that has been released, the study found that commentary:
"was enough to make study participants think the downside of the reported technology was greater than they’d previously thought"
How interesting. From personal experience, I’ve seen this force in full effect. When we launched menshn, it received such a gigantic amount of negative press and trolling that it was always an uphill struggle from the beginning. There is that very, very British attitude which is, instead of welcoming innovation and effort to create something, we prefer to sit around and sneer at ambition and innovation.
With menshn, the negativity arrived before we even launched the product. The simple fact that we wanted to launch something – create something new – rubbed that British attitude up the wrong way. We weren’t given half a chance to settle in and prove the value of the product.
All of this just feeds into a wider opinion I have on the state of the modern world, which is all centred around the Internet nowadays. It seems to be the case for many that whatever is written on the web is true, and that the wisdom of the crowd – despite the crowd being extraordinarily fickle and vacuous – rules supreme. We don’t take the time to consider things anymore, be they news stories, scandals, political decisions. We just jump on the bandwagon, fill it up with fuel and march forward laughing and sneering and giggling like hyenas who’ve escaped the asylum.
As time goes on, no doubt more studies will appear that show the downsides of this new world.
Photo thanks to tsparks on Flickr.