User comments and public opinion: Findings from an eye-tracking experiment

Nili Steinfeld, Tal Azran, Azi Lev-On

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations

Abstract

Following a study that demonstrated that user comments have a strong impact on public opinion, Popular Science magazine decided to disable its user comments option. Prompted by this dramatic decision, this study used an eye-tracking experiment (N = 197) to study the popularity of user comments, and the effects of pre-existing opinions, readership patterns and the tone of user comments on the evaluation of news articles. Despite vast research utilizing eye tracking to study online behavior, very few previous studies engaged with online news consumption. This is the first eye tracking study to test for a correlation between reading user comments and evaluating a news story article. Although more than 40% read the user comments, the most significant and persistent predictor of readers' evaluations of the articles were their pre-existing opinions about the articles' theme, while readership had no effect on the articles' evaluation. Follow-up interviews demonstrate that readers commonly view user comments as a realm characterized by biases and commercialization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63-72
Number of pages10
JournalComputers in Human Behavior
Volume61
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2016
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Experiment
  • Eye-tracking
  • Health communication
  • Participatory journalism
  • Public opinion
  • User comments

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