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There has been an actual study of the impact of comment trolls.
In a recent study, a team of researchers from the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication and several other institutions employed a survey of 1,183 Americans to get at the negative consequences of vituperative online comments for the public understanding of science. Participants were asked to read a blog post containing a balanced discussion of the risks and benefits of nanotechnology (which is already all around us and supports a $ 91 billion U.S. industry). The text of the post was the same for all participants, but the tone of the comments varied. Sometimes, they were "civil"—e.g., no name calling or flaming. But sometimes they were more like this: "If you don’t see the benefits of using nanotechnology in these products, you're an idiot."
The researchers were trying to find out what effect exposure to such rudeness had on public perceptions of nanotech risks. They found that it wasn't a good one. Rather, it polarized the audience: Those who already thought nano-risks were low tended to become more sure of themselves when exposed to name-calling; while those who though nano-risks are high were more likely to move in their own favored direction. In other words, it appeared that pushing people's emotional buttons, through derogatory comments, made them double down on their pre-existing beliefs.
Why are people so quick to buy junk theories on climate, creationism, and vaccines? Chris Mooney explains in "The Science of Why We Don't Believe in Science."
In the context of the psychological theory of motivated reasoning, this makes a great deal of sense. Based on pretty indisputable observations about how the brain works, the theory notes that people feel first, and think second. The emotions come faster than the "rational" thoughts—and also shape the retrieval of those thoughts from memory. Therefore, if reading insults activates one's emotions, the "thinking" process may be more likely to be defensive in nature, and focused on preserving one's identity and pre-existing beliefs.
So, current community, it seems that trolling does damage civil, and constructive, discussion. Sure, there are lots of reasons some people engage in the practice, and it seems likely some of TPTB would find it so helpful to keep people polarized that they might even hire keyboard commandos to make sure it happens all over the internet, but we have the power to make it pointless: Don't engage.
Now, like onemale, I am all for the sharing of diverse opinions. Different perspectives can help each of us to broaden our view and see facets of issues we may not have considered. That is constructive. We don't need a choir singing the same note, but a bit of harmony brings a much richer, more robust music. Cacophony is not especially helpful. Fair listening to well reasoned views that are different from our own is a good practice. Letting antagonism grow to be the main event is not a good practice.
IOW give peace a chance and weave stronger social fabric.
Please, go to Mother Jones article and read it through. Check out other things there if you don't regularly visit that site. Bring good stuff here for others to learn about and discuss constructively. Don't feed trolls. Don't give them any power.
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