A report from the Engaging News Project at the University of Texas-Austin describes study results that researchers say could help improve communications on social media and, by extension, benefit the democratic process. In one experiment, a group of participants were asked to read the comments sections associated with articles on a typical online news site. Next to each comment was a button that read “Like,” “Recommend,” or “Respect” depending on the participant. Those who saw the “Respect” option were up to 50 percent more likely to select it for those comments that opposed their own viewpoints.
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What’s the Big Idea?
The Engaging News Project’s primary goal is to help news organizations involve their audiences in different ways using research-based techniques. Director Natalie Stroud says the study results help prove that “the word choices used for social media buttons are consequential and can encourage readers to engage with and show appreciation for opposing points of view—practices that are crucial to democracy.” Another finding from the study showed that comments sections tended to be more civil when journalists took part in the discussion.