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Original Article

Negativity Wins at Last

How Presentation Order and Valence of User Comments Affect Perceptions of Journalistic Quality

Published Online:https://doi.org/10.1027/1864-1105/a000261

Abstract. A number of studies show that user comments on news websites can affect news-related judgments and perceptions. However, with news organizations increasingly shifting their comment sections to social network sites (SNS), questions arise about whether this alters previously observed effects. Instead of encountering comments “below the line,” SNS provoke a reversed direction of exposure, suggesting that comments might be read before the news article. Addressing the implications of this shift in direction of exposure, we conducted a preregistered experiment with German participants (N = 630), in which we varied comment presentation order (before vs. after the article) and comment valence (positive vs. negative) and assessed how these factors influence the way individuals perceive the journalistic quality of commented news articles. The data provide evidence for a negativity bias and presentation order effects, with negative comments showing distinct effects on quality perceptions, particularly when presented after the article.

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