Don’t Read the Comments?
Veganism is the practice of abstaining from animal products, but can it teach us something new about how we see ourselves? Jenny Davis, Tony Love, and Phoenicia Fares show that it can. In Social Psychology Quarterly, the authors use veganism as an identity to integrate theories of the self and broaden research methods.
Veganism is unique because it is simultaneously individual and collective as an identity and a practice. To study what this means for social psychological theory, the authors analyzed responses to two viral YouTube videos on veganism. One video takes a negative stance towards vegans through misinformation. The second video, recorded by a vegan, acts as a response to the first, and takes a positive stance. The comments were used to look at how vegan commenters responded to the perceived identity threat or support. Responses were analyzed by emotion words and total word count. Collectively, the two videos had over 250,000 views and 9,000 comments and replies.
Drawing on existing theories of identity, the authors hypothesize that vegan YouTubers will respond more negatively and use more words in response to the video that is unsupportive of a vegan identity. In contrast, the authors predict that responses to the pro-vegan video will remain positive. This is because when important identities are threatened by others, the owner of the identity often behaves in ways to reconcile that inconsistency with the way they think and feel about themselves.
The authors’ findings are consistent with their hypothesis. The negative video received more negative responses by vegans and used more words than the video that positively supported a vegan identity. The difference in emotional sentiment between the two videos was also found to be significant. Davis, Love, and Fares’ study is in line with previous findings and bridges together theories across disciplines of social psychology and social movements.
So, should you read the comments? These authors provide a case for revisiting why we should, showing how the comment section can broaden the way researchers think about digital methods and theories of self.