by Marsha Rakestraw

There’s a common saying in the cyberverse: Never read the comments.

But a new study by researchers at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, has revealed that both “a prejudiced and anti-prejudiced online environment can … be influential in changing an individual’s own level of bias.” In other words, lots of negative comments tend to inspire more negative comments (and beliefs). And lots of positive comments inspire more positive comments and can even reduce prejudices.

Although it’s important to be selective in leaving compassionate comments (getting involved in the middle of a flame war isn’t really productive), taking a few minutes to thank someone, to offer positive solutions, or to model a message of compassion, mindfulness, and critical thinking can help inspire others to do the same – and may shift the conversation in a more meaningful direction.

If you want to leave a comment, here are a couple tips to help make your comments matter.

  • Stay on topic.
    Stick with the issue relevant to the original article/post so that distractions don’t derail possible positive progress.
  • Stay calm and compassionate.
    Modeling a message of compassion is an essential part of being a changemaker. We can still share our outrage (for example), but in a way that helps move the conversation forward, rather than into devolution.
  • Offer a solution.
    Providing information without including the means to do something about it only engenders feelings of helplessness and apathy. So whenever possible offer meaningful solutions (both on a personal and systemic level) that do the most good and least harm for people, animals, and the earth. Provide links if you can.
  • Include accurate information.
    Our credibility is one of the most important tools we have as humane educators and changemakers, so it’s important that we ensure as best we can that the information we offer is accurate, and that we include (when relevant) credible sources for more information.