The "Nasty Effect:" Online Incivility and Risk Perceptions

Gathered together in one place, for easy access, an agglomeration of writings and images relevant to the Rapeutation phenomenon.

Re: The "Nasty Effect:" Online Incivility and Risk Perceptio

Postby admin » Tue Dec 03, 2013 6:27 pm

Results

Overall, the regression model explained 17.0 percent of the variation of risk perception (see Table 1).

Image

Cell entries are final standardized regression coefficients for Blocks 1 through 5 and before-entry standardized regression coefficients for Block 6.

ap < .05,
bp < .01,
cp < .001.

The condition and demographic blocks contributed to 2.0 and 4.5 percent of the explained variance, respectively. Our findings did not demonstrate a significant direct relationship between exposure to incivility and risk perceptions. Thus, our first hypothesis was not supported. Age was positively related to nanotechnology risk perception, and this demographic remained significant after adding the nanotechnology familiarity, support, and efficacy variables to the model (β = .07; p < .05). Women showed stronger perceptions of risk related to nanotechnology, although this relationship became nonsignificant after adding the familiarity, support, and efficacy variables. Neither religiosity nor ideology had a direct significant relationship with nanotechnology risk perception, and this block only contributed 0.2 percent to the regression's explained variation.

Newspaper use was positively related to risk perception (β = .12; p < .01), but television use showed no relationship. Internet use was significantly and negatively related to risk perception of nanotechnology (β = −.15; p < .001). The media use block had an incremental R2 of 3.5 percent.

Nanotechnology familiarity (β = −.12; p < .01) and nanotechnology support (β = −.23; p < .001) were both significantly and negatively related to risk perception of nanotechnology. Nanotechnology efficacy was positively related to risk perception (β = .10; p < .01), and this block contributed 7.1 percent to the explained variation of this model.

The interaction block (incremental R2 = 1.0 percent) showed that online incivility does indeed have a polarizing effect on attitudes when considering certain predispositions of support and religiosity. However, the interaction between familiarity with nanotechnology and incivility was not significant. Thus, our second hypothesis was not supported. We did find a significant interaction between support for nanotechnology and incivility on risk perceptions (β = .09; p < .01). When exposed to uncivil comments, those who have higher levels of support for nanotechnology were more likely to report lower levels of risk perception and those with low levels of support were more likely to report higher levels of risk perception (see Figure 1). This supports our third hypothesis. Our findings also reveal a significant interaction between religiosity and incivility on risk perception (β = −.07; p < .05). Among those exposed to uncivil comments, those with high levels of religiosity were more likely to report higher levels of risk perception and those with low levels of religiosity were more likely to report lower levels of risk perception (see Figure 2). This finding supports our fourth hypothesis.

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Figure 1. Interaction Effect of Online Civility Condition and Support for Nanotechnology on Risk Perception of NanotechnologyNote: Nanotechnology Risk Perception is measured from 1–5 (benefit < risk).

Image
Figure 2. Interaction Effect of Online Civility Condition and Religiosity on Risk Perception of NanotechnologyNote: Nanotechnology Risk Perception is measured from 1–5 (benefit < risk).
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Re: The "Nasty Effect:" Online Incivility and Risk Perceptio

Postby admin » Tue Dec 03, 2013 6:33 pm

Discussion

The purpose of this study was to explore online incivility's role in polarizing attitudes when reading deliberation in a blog setting. We employed a topic with low familiarity among the general public, nanotechnology, and assessed formation of the perception of its risk in order to shed light on online incivility's impact. The data reveal several important predictors of risk perception of nanotechnology as well as two significant interactions between civil or uncivil blog comments and value predispositions that individuals employ when processing information and making judgments about new technologies. Most importantly, this study found that uncivil blog comments contribute to polarization of risk perception of an issue depending on an individual's level of religiosity and support of that entity. Specifically, among individuals who do not support nanotechnology, those who are exposed to uncivil deliberation in blog comments are more likely to perceive the technology as risky than those who are exposed to civil comments. Similarly, highly religious individuals are more likely to perceive nanotechnology as risky when exposed to uncivil comments compared to less religious individuals exposed to uncivil comments.

These findings support past research that suggests people use certain heuristics as interpretational lenses of media. Because one's expectations about a message's validity are already established when employing value predispositions as heuristics (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993), these shortcuts influence the evaluation of arguments surrounding unfamiliar issues such as nanotechnology. Individuals may be focusing on congruent messages about the topic at hand and discrediting incongruent messages, thereby strengthening their preexisting beliefs about the technology. And it appears that online incivility may drive this polarization.

It is possible that when people encounter incensed comments in online discussions, they would employ their knowledge of the issue to process the information from the blog. According to this perspective, people with low knowledge would not have a cognitive store from which to draw in order to counteract the effects of incivility and therefore be more affected by it. Nevertheless, our study did not demonstrate enough evidence that people with low levels of knowledge respond differently than people with high levels of knowledge to uncivil comments.

The most striking—and perhaps most unsettling—aspect of our study is that the actual blog post about the topic of nanotechnology was neutral, with equal amounts of risk and benefit information across conditions. The incivility instigated by lay (albeit fictional) online users induced an increase in polarization of risk perception about nanotechnology. This study's findings suggest perceptions towards science are shaped in the online blog setting not only by “top-down information,” but by others' civil or uncivil viewpoints, as well. While the Internet opens new doors for public deliberation of emerging technologies, it also gives new voice to nonexpert, and sometimes rude, individuals.

It is important to note limitations of this study before discussing the findings further. Concerning measurements, this study employed self-assessment items instead of factual nanotechnology knowledge. This is not too concerning, considering that this study assumed that previous nanotechnology familiarity might act as a heuristic when judging new information (e.g., the toxicity of silver nanoparticles). Future research may focus on breaking down the nanotechnology familiarity variable, perhaps by looking at an individual's deference to scientists, general interest in nanotechnology, or trust in science media. Another limitation of this study relates to the total amount of explained variance by our model, which was 17.0% of the total variance of our dependent variable. While this may be quite low for a model with six blocks of predictors, we were mainly interested in the effects of the stimulus. However, the stimulus we used was fairly weak with the main manipulation appearing at the end, and the exposure only occurred once. Our results are robust considering these limitations.

While we did not formally test the effects of all manipulations in our experimental design, it is possible that the other elements tested in the experiment played a role in our results. The other two elements included agreement vs. disagreement and emotion vs. reason. For instance, an emotional claim (e.g., on having hope about the benefits of a new technology) could be interpreted differently by people with high vs. low levels of familiarity. It is possible that someone with low familiarity would be more influenced by an emotional claim, although it is likely the effects of incivility would override that. Similarly, it is possible that a claim of disagreement made in conjunction with an uncivil statement has a greater chance of influencing risk perceptions than does a statement of incivility couched among commenters who agree with each other. We also controlled for these manipulations in the first block of our model.

Keeping these limitations in mind, this study offers several insights on how the online environment may shape and polarize perceptions about topics, including new technologies such as nanotechnology. Contrary to past research concerning our case study, our analyses found that the value predispositions of religiosity and ideology had no direct relationship with perceived risks of nanotechnology. Considering the cultural and sociological perspectives of risk communication, risk perceptions of certain issues may change for social groups based on certain events or changing cultural patterns in society (Dietz, Frey, & Rosa, 2002; Krimsky & Golding, 1992). For example, most conservative Americans long denied the existence of global warming, but recently a growing number of conservative evangelical groups have been advocating for climate change regulation based on the belief that Christians are “stewards of the Earth” (Janofsky, 2005; Michaud, 2008). While this study cannot provide evidence of changing attitudes about nanotechnology among different subsets of society, increasing coverage about the issue in the online environment may influence and drive polarization of perceptions about the technology for these groups in the future.
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Re: The "Nasty Effect:" Online Incivility and Risk Perceptio

Postby admin » Tue Dec 03, 2013 6:33 pm

Conclusion

Online communication and discussion of new topics such as emerging technologies has the potential to enrich public deliberation. Nevertheless, this study's findings show that online incivility may impede this democratic goal. Much in the same way that watching uncivil politicians argue on television causes polarization among individuals, impolite and incensed blog comments can polarize online users based on value predispositions utilized as heuristics when processing the blog's information. The effects of online, user-to-user incivility on perceptions towards emerging technologies may prove especially troublesome for science experts and communicators that rely on public acceptance of their information. The effects of online incivility may be even stronger for more well-known and contentious science issues such as the evolution vs. intelligent design debate or climate change. Future research may explore these issues to gain a better understanding of the formation of risk perceptions for controversial political or science topics in the context of user-generated online comments.
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Re: The "Nasty Effect:" Online Incivility and Risk Perceptio

Postby admin » Tue Dec 03, 2013 6:33 pm

Notes

1. The experiment originally consisted of blog posts about nanotechnology and nuclear energy and the comments varied by civil vs. uncivil language, agreement vs. disagreement of opinions, and reasoned vs. emotional appeals (N = 2,338). This study focuses solely on participants who received the nanotechnology blog post (n = 1,183) and looks only at the effects of incivility (the other manipulations are controlled for in our analysis). This subset of the sample is representative of the population from which the entire sample draws because individuals were randomized across experimental conditions.
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Re: The "Nasty Effect:" Online Incivility and Risk Perceptio

Postby admin » Tue Dec 03, 2013 6:40 pm

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