The Cueing Power of Comments on Social Media : How Disagreement in Facebook Comments Affects User Engagement with News
Anamaria Dutceac Segesten
Diederick C Niehorster
Summary, in English
Previous research demonstrates that conflict framing in news articles can influence individuals’ attention, selection, and distribution of news. However, no study has examined whether the valence of social media comment fields can trigger similar effects for news engagement on Facebook. In this mixed-methods study, we combine eye tracking with surveys, and conduct an experiment in which participants (n = 96) were exposed to 20 Facebook news posts from the Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet. Under each post, we presented participants with a pair of real (but anonymized) Facebook comments that were either in agreement or disagreement with one another. We then examined how this manipulation influenced participants’ visual attention to comment fields, their self-reported likelihood to click on the post to read the full story, and their self-reported likelihood to share the news post to their Facebook network. Our results show that comments in disagreement increased users’ visual attention to comments, decreased their likelihood to share the post, and had no effect on their likelihood to read the news article associated with the post. Thus, the presence of disagreement in comments does cue news engagement on Facebook, but the effect is not uniform across different news engagement behaviors. Moreover, engagement with hard versus soft news topics also varied. Disagreement in comments to Facebook posts about soft news topics (Entertainment, Society, and Sports) increased users’ attention to the comments field. In contrast, comment disagreement for hard news topics (Economy and Politics) reduced users’ attention to the comment field, as well as their self-reported likelihood to read the post.