Do nasty comments discourage people from joining online discussions?
Yes, newcomers are more likely to participate when comments are civil and moderated.
When online comment sections are a free-for-all, it seems to scare off new commenters.
A large experiment run in Reddit's science-discussion forum (r/science) found that newcomers were much more likely to post comments when community rules were prominently displayed. A smaller lab experiment reached the same conclusion: when researchers signalled that comments were moderated, participants were more willing to post.
Indeed, according to analysis of hundreds of thousands of Reddit posts people on the receiving end of hostile comments tend to disengage. Nasty comments can drive away social network users.
One possible explanation is that people just feel bad and unenthusiastic after reading nasty comments, so they opt out. But there's mixed evidence when it comes to how people react to comments with uncivil language and swears—they seem to garner more negative and positive attention than polite posts. Even if nasty comments deter first-time commenters, they might attract views and clicks.