The Effect of Content Polarization on Readers’ Perceived Empowerment and Subscription Intentions

Project Abstract

This extended abstract explores the effect of polarizing or non-polarizing news article content on readers’ perceived empowerment and subscription intentions — among other factors — depending on whether reader comments have been enabled or disabled for those news articles. Compared to traditional media, online news articles have become increasingly popular in recent years. Many online news outlets allow readers to comment below articles. Although previous research has examined reader commenting behavior, research on readers’ perceptions of the online news outlet and the author of the news article when reader comments are enabled or disabled is scarce. We expect that readers will feel greater (also greater) willingness to comment and more (less) empowerment on polarizing news articles for which reader comments are enabled (disabled), increasing (decreasing) subscription intentions. We also expect that readers will feel neutral (more) willingness to comment and less (more) empowerment to comment on non-polarizing news articles for which reader comments are enabled (disabled), increasing (decreasing) subscription intentions. We believe this research will provide practical applications for online news outlets.

Using an experiment with a design of 2 (article: polarizing vs. non-polarizing) × 2 (comments: enabled vs. disabled), we plan to test our hypotheses using samples on Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk). We chose the subject of COVID-19 due to its controversial nature, and adapted real COVID-19 information to the online news article format. The polarizing article is characterized by more “color” — e.g. quotes from a physician providing guidance on COVID-19 vaccines — whereas the non-polarizing article is characterized entirely by data. Our neutral article provides unbiased information on the function of digital cameras. In the disabled comments condition, we ultimately decided to be transparent with participants by including a statement reading, “Comments have been disabled for this article,” to make clearer the distinction between the enabled and disabled comments conditions. All three of our manipulations are relatively short in length to avoid losing participants’ attention. We will run manipulation checks for our two manipulations. We will measure willingness to comment, involvement, and reader politics as potential mediators of our findings.

Funding Type

Research Grant

Academic College

Jesse D. Jones College of Science, Engineering and Technology


Journalism major, media production minor


Bachelor of Arts




Ismail Karabas

Academic College

Arthur J. Bauernfeind College of Business

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