Monday, April 16, 2007

Is Digg.com biased against Christianity?

One of my favorite websites is Digg.com. It has user-driven content, meaning that readers select and vote for the stories that they find most interesting. The more votes (or “diggs”, the greater prominence given the story. In reading Digg.com for several months now, I’ve noticed that the most popular stories involving Christianity often portray it in a negative light.

This leads me to ask if Digg.com is biased against Christianity? Well, since the company itself doesn’t select the content, its religious preferences, if it has any, don’t really come through. So, the question is really asking if readers and participants of Digg.com participants biased against Christianity?

If we assume that Digg.com’s readers have religious preferences similar to the country as a whole, then probably a majority of them define themselves as Christians. If so, we would expect to see similar levels of interest in stories that portray Christianity in a positive light as well as those in a negative light. This doesn’t appear to be the case, however, for several reasons.

1) A natural experiment. Last week a popular story was entitled “Atheist Divorce Rate Lower than Christian.” That same day, I posted a story with the reverse title: “Christian Divorce Rates are Lower than Atheist.” I did so because my story had the virtue of being more accurate, and I was curious about the relative interest in stories positive and negative toward Christianity. The final tally: 3587 diggs for the story negatively portraying Christian divorce rates as high, 9 diggs for the story positively portraying Christian divorce rates as low. Same day, virtually identical titles, dramatically different levels of support from Digg.com participants.

2) Top stories. To see which Christian-related stories were most popular on Digg.com, I searched for those stories with keywords Christianity, Christian, Christ, and Jesus, and the results were interesting. Here are the titles of top ten stories—all received over 2,000 diggs and all portray Christianity in a negative light. Interestingly, several do so by emphasizing atheists as victims.
- Atheist divorce rate is Lower than Christian
- High school student tapes teacher preaching God in class
- James Cameron to announce Jesus tomb discovery
- Did the US forefathers want a Christian nation? Ask the Treaty of Tripoli.
- Atheist Richard Dawkins Owns Evangelical Christian Ted Haggard
- CNN Anti-Atheist Hit Piece - write them to protest unanswered hate-speech
- Murdered for being an atheist.
- Atheist in Massachusetts? Enjoy your prison time
- Jesus spotted on dog’s ass (pic)
- Star Wars - "The Last Supper"

Now, I’m not necessarily bothered by these stories--the Star Wars Last Supper is hilarious, the dog’s butt really does, and I don’t get into the U.S. being a Christian nation. Still, there is nothing here positive, or even neutral (except for may the Star Wars), toward Christianity.

Given this apparently negative portrayal of Christianity, we might ask why. One reason would probably be the bane of all news coverage—looking for the unexpected. As such, newspapers report car accidents but not people arriving safely. Likewise, negative stories about a conventional social institution such as the Christian church might be deemed more newsworthy. Also, those who participate in Digg.com are self-selected, so those who feel antagonism toward Christianity might be more active. Finally, these observations are in line with a more general observation of the widespread acceptance of negative stereotypes of Christians as immoral, hypocritical, and overall stupid.

What do you think?

12 comments:

Jerry said...

I'd agree with that, though I'm not sure how to empicially test it. To me, the best analogy might be celebrity or political news. The biggest stories are scandals, not acts of goodwill or achievements. We seem to like to see people mess up or see hypocrisy exposed. Perhaps it's the deeper issue of self-justification--in this case, Christians can't judge me, because i judged them first. But that wouldn't account for the bias toward athiesm here. It's an interesting point.

Matt Wiebe said...

I was one of those 9 votes, just to see if it would take off. I knew it wouldn't. I browse digg on a daily basis, and

Here is my stereotype of an average digg user (and especially digg voter, because they're the ones who influence a story's popularity):

Male, approx 16-30 years old, highly technologically savvy.

The corollary with this is a disposition towards logical, scientific mindsets that privilege empirical accounts of the way thing are. These guys like the feeling of being in charge that their mastery of technology gives them, particularly since their intelligence and skill-set have probably made them the butt of many a nerd joke in high school. Therefore, any claim by Christianity that intrudes on their sense of self-determination and proposes that maybe they don't actually know everything is reacted against with a violent self-protective reflex.

Of course, that's just my hyperbolic stereotype, but I think there's something there.

Brad Wright said...

Good thinking Jerry... judging people who we feel judged by makes sense as sort of a moral first-strike policy.

I think you describe the modal user of Digg.com fairly accurately Matt, at least in terms of age and savvy. Certainly it's techologically focused.

Anonymous said...

I believe all three of your (jerry, matt and brad) make very good points. In particular, what you've said, Matt, about the stereotypical age, sex and interests, from my observations, are right on the button. However, in contrast to your belief that they are interested because this would imply they 'don't actually know everything' is a blatant oversimplification.

In actuality, most of these persons simply cannot accept things which there is no value reason to. With regards to a specific spiritual belief which there is, nor ever will there be, no real evidence to suggest even the remotest validity, most of these persons would simply not be able believe. However, another interesting thing to note, from my experience at least, is that these same people often like to talk about spirituality and the universe in general.
Far more than those who I know who call themselves Christians. Also, I'm certain that most of these people do not immediately discount the existence of a greater power; however, a Christian, or even Abrahamian God in general, makes as much sense as the Greek Gods or any other mythical creature. Which, as you might know, many geeks also LOVE discussing.

Brad Wright said...

I'm a little wary about generalizing about a group as broad as techno-savy people, and your points about being highly interested in spiritual matters is well-taken. (And the comments about Greek Gods being appealing is good).

Maybe a technological perspective focuses on what can be seen and empirically demonstrated?

Andrew said...

Here is the problem with your entire article:

"If we assume that Digg.com’s readers have religious preferences similar to the country as a whole, then probably a majority of them define themselves as Christians."

This is dead on wrong. Most of the people who frequent digg are geeks, and wouldn't you know it, free thinkers. Isn't it possible that these geeks simply can't believe in a system of religion that ELECTS it's closest person to God.

I for one have a very strong interest in theology but a large disdain for Christianity. I'm agnostic, which, I think you'll find most of the digg community is. I can't back this claim up any more than yours, but take it from a geek who reads digg and generally could easily associate with the community.

Second of all, you use digg.com as the subject of your post but clearly that's not what you're talking about here. Trying to manipulate things here?

Grow up and find something else to bitch about rather than a community of geeks who recognize the fallacy that is organized religion.

Brad Wright said...

Let's see, if about 2/3s of the nation professes Christianity, it's not a stretch to assume that say half of digg users are Christian. That still leaves room for those of whom you call geek to be less frequently Christian than others.

I do use digg.com as the subject of my post and then generalize to stereotypes. Starting with the particular and going to the general is just good social science, not manipulation.

Indeed I need to grow up, in many ways.

I would like to think, though, that one can discuss ideas and disagreements in a civil manner.

Knumb said...

I see the same thing quite a bit on other, similar sites, like fark.com.

First of all, Christians are some of the last acceptable targets of open discrimination in our society, Catholics most of all (due to pedo priests, IMO).

Secondly, the internet is something of a 7th grade schoolyard, socially. The loudest and the meanest tend to be the most visible. There's a term called "Internet Tough Guy" for said bullies. While many people use the internet for many things, places like digg.com and fark.com are internet dodge-ball games.

Third, momentum builds up on the negative side of all issues, the way office gossip does. While I could stop that with one positive comment about the target of the gossip, there's no quelling the tide of bile on the internet.

In the end, I just pity the haters.

Brad Wright said...

Oh, nice analysis John. I think you're right about who gets heard in these discussions. At least with religion, I'm surprised by how mean-spirited some of the comments are.

Also, Christians are certainly fair game for stereotypes. Someday religious stereotypes will be deemed unacceptable, as racial and sexual stereotypes are now (mostly), but that day has not yet come.

Anonymous said...

I feel badly for Andrew.

Unfair Brad to get all smart on him and to ask for civil discussion...

He seems very angry...

Jeff said...

There is so much in Christianity to be biased about, I wouldn't be surprised if any website is biased against Christianity.

I'd like to know what reputable study you can cite to back up your assertion that Christian rates of divorce are lower than atheist rates.

Anonymous said...

Bradley, you are right. There is PLENTY of digg bias against Christianity. I see every time I look in the comments for an article that vicitimizes atheists, also anything christianity related on digg gets plenty of christianity-hating comments. Anyone who defends the faith and buried and treated as if they were uneducated.