Home Research Examines What Motivates People to Comment Online

Research Examines What Motivates People to Comment Online

A study by professors at the Warsaw University of Technology has demonstrated something not surprising to those of us who’ve spent any time on the Internet. That is, people who comment online are often motivated by emotions, and negative emotions at that. Furthermore, the longer online discussions last, the more likely they are to turn increasingly negative, and in doing so, these negative discussion dissolve into a back-and-forth volley, sustained by fewer and fewer commenters.

The research focused on the public discussion forums on the BBC website, specifically tracking those items posted on the Religion and Ethics and World News message boards between the website’s launch in 2005 to when the site was crawled in 2009 for a total of almost 100,000 threads and over 250,000 posts written by 18,000 users. This means that the average activity was about 137 posts per forum member, making it a community of “loyal users.”

The study examined user activity specifically to try to gauge the influence of “emotional content” on users’ behavior. Using sentiment analysis, the researchers looked at content, separating “objective” and “subjective”, and then examined users’ responses – whether they were objective or subjective, and in the case of the latter, positive or negative. The figure at the right shows the users’ global activity (a) in relation to their emotional expression (e).

According to the researchers, “negative emotions are a motivation that incline forum participants to express their opinion (as well as emotion) writing a post. The active users are those characterized with negative emotions and they seem to be the key agents that sustain discussion in the thread. Finally, we have shown that negative emotions accelerate user’s local activity in the thread,” something that doesn’t mean they participate the same way on a global level.

Researchers do admit that this dataset has a strong bias towards negative emotional content. It is, after all, only a study on those posting on a BBC news forum. The rest of the world’s Internet commenters are much more rational and positive, right?

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