Don’t read the comments: the effects of abusive comments on perceptions of women authors’ credibility

Recent work suggests women authors experience more abuse in online comments than men, but we do not know whether these abusive comments affect people’s perceptions. Given renewed interest in the experience of women online, we ask: does exposure to abusive comments affect perceptions of women authors’ credibility? And does this penalty extend to the outlet? To answer these questions, we employed a survey experiment which manipulated exposure to an abusive comment, and author gender. We found a significant effect for the abusive comment on author credibility and intention to seek news from the author and outlet in the future, but gender of the author did not moderate these effects. To ensure the null effects for gender were not an artifact of comment or topic, we fielded two additional survey experiments. Across topics, whether the abuse was gendered or gender-specific, we found abusive comments exert significant negative effects on evaluations, regardless of author gender. Our results have implications for news organizations considering comments.