Room for Debate (and Derogation): Negativity of Readers’ Comments on Black Authors’ Online Content

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When most people think of anonymous comments written on online content, they think of messages that are overtly negative and offensive. Previous research suggests that readers of online content about race may react more negatively to authors who are members of stigmatized racial groups. In 2 studies, we tested this possibility with respect to online content written by Black and White authors. In Study 1, we analyzed readers’ comments on actual race-related opinion-editorial (op-ed) essays published on The New York Times’ Room for Debate blog over a 1-year period. As predicted, readers wrote more (and more negative) comments on Black authors’ op-eds compared to comments written on White authors’ op-eds. Study 2, which included information about the readers, revealed that people who rate themselves as likely to comment online are also more likely to have negative reactions to Black authors’ content. Implications for race-related online content and directions for future research are discussed.

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