Thanks for the excellent Friday editorial on the science of online commenting. Studies suggest that negativity is more persuasive online than objectivity and factual data even if it’s promoting false or misleading ideas, and that anger transmits faster and stronger online than other emotions. This does not bode well for a planet on which there is no universally trusted source of information and information so often comes from companies with more obligation to shareholders than to journalistic standards, or from paranoid groups convinced they are fighting shadowy evils, with no accountability for language triggering violence.
Eventually, all social groups will be targeted with misinformation and hostile stereotyping: conservatives, progressives, Christians, socialists, gays, Muslims, Jews, atheists … all will be harmed. Will it finally unite people of goodwill in each other’s defense across political and religious lines, and in defense of reasoned discourse and problem-solving?
The future of humanity may hinge upon how quickly we can learn the brain science and sociological findings offered by research and apply it to the ways we argue and spread ideas. If we fail to do this, the “us and them” patterns that have brought humanity to its knees will continue to snowball, until all social systems crash and there is no escape from social contagion. We will believe what makes us feel good and our opponents look evil, until the only possible outcome is evil, and the good in us is silenced.