Online Comments About Politicians Affect Voters, Study Shows, So Resist The Urge To Scroll Through The Comments Section

Even though the cardinal rule of the Internet is "never read the comments section of any post, ever, especially if you want to retain your faith in humanity," research shows that Facebook comments actually affect voter choice. Personally, if I were to be affected by Internet comments, I prefer to think that it would manifest in doing the exact opposite of whatever they suggest; it seems like the safest solution considering most comment sections are populated by prepubescent boys and self-important college students. According to researchers at the University of Delaware, though, social media has a stronger influence than we'd like to think.

Psychologists created a fake Facebook profile for a nonpartisan politician, which was sent to randomly-selected Delaware residents as an online survey. Some recipients were shown a page containing two (fictional) supportive comments, while others saw a page with two negative comments. Here's where it gets interesting: When participants were asked to rate their impressions of the politician, those who saw a positive Facebook page had more favorable views of the candidate. Similarly, respondents who were shown negative comments adopted more negative views of the politician, even though the candidate was carefully crafted to be a total blank slate.

Your initial reaction may be to roll your eyes at the herd mentality on display, but researchers have a different take on the results. "This showed that people trust comments from their peers more than they trust self-generated comments from the candidate," lead researcher Paul R. Brewer said, according to Science Daily. It's not that people are easily led, although that is certainly true in some situations; it's that we trust each other more than a self-serving politician.

However, now that the cat's out of the bag, that may change. As the Pew Research Center points out, voters are expecting more and more out of politicians' social media presences, and they have provided. Call me cynical, but in light of research showing that people are heavily influenced by Facebook comments, it's not hard to imagine politicians taking advantage of the fact by paying people to leave positive feedback or cutting out the middleman and leaving fake comments.

On the other hand, those kind of comments are pretty easy to spot on Yelp and other online reviewing sites, so it's not the kind of worry that will keep me up at night. Even so, I think I'll stick with my tried and true method: Staying far, far away from comments sections.

Images: Giphy (2)