Saturday, February 22, 2014

How Trolls Win With Toxic Comments

At its best, the Web is a place for unlimited exchange of ideas. But Web-savvy news junkies have known for a long time that reader feedback can often turn nasty. Now a study in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication suggests that rude comments on articles can even change the way we interpret the news.

"It's a little bit like the Wild West. The trolls are winning," says Dominique Brossard, co-author of the study on the so-called nasty effect. Those trolls she's referring to are commenters who make contributions designed to divert online conversations.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Virginia's George Mason University worked with a science writer to construct a balanced news story on the pros and cons of nanotechnology. More than 1,000 subjects reviewed the blog post from a Canadian newspaper that discussed the water contamination risks of nanosilver particles and the antibacterial benefits.

Half saw the story with polite comments, and the other half saw rude comments like, "If you don't see the benefits of using nanotechnology in these products, you're an idiot."

"Basically what we saw," Brossard says, "is people that were exposed to the polite comments didn't change their views really about the issue covering the story, versus the people that did see the rude comments became polarized — they became more against the technology that was covered in the story."

Brossard said they chose the nanotechnology topic so that readers would have to make sense of a complicated issue with low familiarity. She says communication research shows that people use mental shortcuts to make sense of things they don't understand.

"We need to have an anchor to make sense of this," she says. "And it seems that rudeness and incivility is used as a mental shortcut to make sense of those complicated issues."

Brossard says there's no quick fix for this issue. While she thinks it's important to foster conversation through comments sections, every media organization has to figure out where to draw the line when comments get out of control.

"You don't want to be censoring opinions, but you don't want to allow neither points that are out of topic and that are offensive to the other people that are discussing," she says.

Some sites remove offensive comments, some have moderators to regulate the conversations, and others turn off commenting features once a certain number is reached. Brossard says it's important for people involved in journalism and online communication to realize the influence that comments can have and to formulate appropriate policies.

"I think what we need to define now on the Web, what is a good conversation? What are the things that are allowed socially? Also, as an audience, what do we let happen there?"

All good things to keep in mind before you post a comment below.


Saturday, February 1, 2014

Child Mortality in Detroit

Child mortality occurs at a higher rate in Detroit than in several Third World countries, according to a study conducted by Detroit News. After collaborating with national health departments, researchers discovered that the number one factor impacting Detroit’s high child death rates is prematurity, followed by a culture of violence.
The city of 713,000 is the only U.S. city with upwards of 100 deaths per 100,000 children. In what one doctor declared a “public health emergency,” 120 out of every 100,00 children in Detroit died in 2010. The infant mortality rate — which is higher than the rates in Panama, Romania, and Botswana — is another prominent issue. Between 2000 and 2011, 2,300 infants died within their first year.
Health concerns stem from the city’s long history of financial troubles; all told, 60 percent of Detroit’s youth were impoverished in 2010. Detroit’s economic conditions pose ongoing challenges for residents — including food insecurity, unsafe housing, and the inability access medical care — all of which impact child health, according to Dr. Irwin Redlene, a pediatrician and Columbia University professor.
There is a dearth of physicians in the area, and traveling to receive medical attention is hindered by a poor infrastructure. At this time, women who are not pregnant or nursing do not qualify for Medicaid, and the insurance is stripped away from them shortly after a baby is born. Dr. Elliot Attisha, who created a mobile clinic service that serves kids through the city, explained that children are not receiving necessary medical attention in this context, from “yearly checkups” to “treatment for their chronic conditions.” Many die of “common illnesses” like asthma and the flu.
High homicide rates throughout the city also foster a culture of trauma and stress among children. Officials recognize the extent to which gun violence particularly affects youth, although limited resources make it difficult to curb the problem. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s Youth Behavior Risk Survey concluded that many youth skipped school out of fear of violence, and more students were likely “to be threatened on school property with a weapon one or more times” than anywhere else. Altogether, thirty-six children died in Detroit as a result of violence in 2010.

While there is a concerted effort to expand medical services to youth, as hospitals and private organizations develop strategies to improve child health, Detroit’s economic chaos may foil those plans. Last year, Detroit became the largest city to file for bankruptcy — planting the seeds for 24,000 retirees to lose health benefits on March 1. The Motor City is far from economically secure enough to overhaul the systemic problems exacerbating child mortality. Nevertheless, 500,000 people throughout Michigan will be eligible for Medicaid in April, which will provide health insurance for many women with children.