"Never Read the Comments"
It’s a warning that’s evolved into somewhat of a meme of late, even spawning a Twitter account that provides constant reminders of comment danger. And one visit to a controversial Reddit thread or YouTube video reinforces that idea pretty well, because ick.
Now there’s some research to support the idea that comment trolling can prevent people from viewing a subject objectively. Chris Mooney has the details at Mother Jones. In essence, we arrive at any article/argument/website as both emotional and rational creatures. But our emotions kick in first, and if readers see a fiery exchange in comment threads, they are primed to be defensive and protect their beliefs in the face of otherwise convincing information.
It’s part of a psychological phenomenon called “motivated reasoning”. It’s behind a great deal of that frustration you feel when people deny strong science positions (and other stuff, like politics) based on their previously-held beliefs. It’s fascinatingly frustrating stuff, and it’s the major hurdle in communicating things like climate change to skeptics.
The challenge of overcoming motivated reasoning isn’t going anywhere, but it appears that reading comment trolls and emotional tirades can make it an even more difficult mountain to climb. Protip: When scrolling down, exercise extreme intellectual caution.