‘I, for one, welcome our robot overlords’ – Reader comments as a space for public deliberation of emerging technologies

Author: Marie Boran – Dublin City University, Ireland

This study examines online comments to the most-commented upon science news articles (N=646; N=1,108; N=922) on the topic of artificial intelligence appearing on The Guardian website in the period September-November 2017. We evaluate the potential of the comments section as a space for public deliberation of emerging technologies by analysing 1) comment content relative to the original journalistic text and 2) inter-commenter interactions or dialogue in the course of discussing these stories on artificial intelligence.

Science journalism has a history embedded in pedagogy (Logan, 2001) that mirrors the deficit model in science communication but the advent of reader has created the possibility of dialogue. We argue audience engagement in the comment section is of value as a digital public sphere within which science can be engaged by the plurality of views and perspectives required in a post-truth age where scepticism and lack of trust in emerging technologies may be better understood in terms of social and political factors and not simply a lack of understanding of science.

Reader comments represent a unique space in that they directly follow journalistic coverage of science and technology while allowing for public participation. This pairing of a science story and reader comments creates a new relationship between the science journalist and her audience, opening up the traditional science narrative to audience involvement and “reframing of issues” (Secko, 2011).

Walsh (2015) suggests the comment section is a space for proto-deliberation of scientific issues; in the case of evidence-based advice around breastfeeding, commenters were found to engage in deliberation of scientific evidence through the lenses of social and personal experience (Len-Rios, Bhandari, & Medvedeva, 2014) while an analysis of reader comments in the Daily Mail’s coverage of Climategate revealed how stereotypes of science and politics are appropriated in climate science discourse (Jaspal, Nerlick, & Koteyko, 2013).

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Stories
Area of interest: Applying science communication research to practice