A study recently completed by researchers at the University of Wisconsin finds yet another reason for actively monitoring and engaging with your online communities: comment trolls are bad.
Sure, that’s pretty obvious, but the trolls’ effect goes beyond the how easily they can derail discussions. The research finds that the tone of comments on a page has a direct influence on a reader’s perception of the article.
” …independent of the content of an article about a new technological development, the tone of comments posted by other readers can make a significant difference in the way new readers feel about the article’s subject. The less civil the accompanying comments, the more risk readers attributed to the research described in the news story.”
The research was focused most directly on science writing, so I would be careful making overly broad generalizations, but it seems logical that this would apply in just about any community. Most people shy away from controversy, except in instances where they have very strongly held beliefs. (Think abortion, gun control, etc.)
So while it may be advantageous to court controversy in your online communities – it sure does make things more interesting than constant “preaching to the choir” – be careful that the controversy you court doesn’t have a negative impact on the community’s attitudes toward the topics being discussed.
Above all, actively monitor your communities and any venues where public comments are posted.