I attended the annual meeting of the Cooling Technology Institute as I was putting the finishing touches on the March issues of Process Heating and Process Cooling. For those that don’t know, CTI is an industry association that advocates for the use of cooling technologies such as wet cooling towers, air-cooled condensers, dry coolers, indirect cooling and hybrid systems.
The organization began as one strictly focused on industrial cooling towers in the early 1950s, and later it expanded its focus to include all evaporative cooling technologies. Water scarcity and water reuse directives influenced the development of dry and hybrid cooling technologies, and evolving water treatment protocols and developments further shaped the organization. In the 17 years since my first CTI meeting, industrial heating and cooling technologies — and manufacturing as a whole — have evolved tremendously. In the days since President Trump was sworn in, it’s clear that regardless of one’s political views, new influences on manufacturing such as proposed import taxes and changing environmental regulations will be felt. Some changes will be welcome; others wholly unwelcome. Through it all, let’s keep talking, and let’s prioritize and emphasize a respectful and thoughtful exchange of ideas and vantage points.
Research by Stanford University and Cornell University proves something I’ve long suspected: anyone can be a bully. A paper based on their research — “Anyone Can Become a Troll: Causes of Trolling Behavior in Online Discussions,” published as part of the upcoming 2017 Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing, bears this out.
The researchers analyzed anonymized data from the CNN website’s comment section from 2012. The data consisted of 1,158,947 users, 200,576 discussions and 26,552,104 posts, and it included posts that had been deleted and those posts made by registered commenters who were later banned. While the researchers had no way to ascertain the commenters’ mood while they composed each post, they used previous research that showed a correlation between mood and the time of day and day of week. (It’s not just your imagination: people are more cranky late at night and early in the traditional work week.) According to the report, “Incidents of down-votes and flagged posts lined up closely with established patterns of negative mood.”
What does that mean? Research showed that commenters that at other times were not prone to post negative and abusive comments were more susceptible to a “spiral of negativity.” Negative feedback such as down-votes on comments (a common commenting tool seen on many websites) and comments that were flagged as abusive by moderators or fellow commentators served to exacerbate that cycle of negativity. Instead of encouraging civility, the mechanisms of correction amplified the negative effects. “Bad conversations lead to bad conversations. People who get down-voted come back more, comment more, and comment even worse,” said Jure Leskovec, associate professor of computer science and senior author of the paper in a release.
Though Process Heating is not a political forum, as a journalist and a citizen of the United States, I can help but be heartsick over so much of what I see and read. I know as a country we have endured difficult, divisive times in our history and remained a unified nation. While I don’t think the political differences that abound among our citizens are likely to spark another civil war in the foreseeable future, the level of incivility is at an all-time high — at least in those mediums where it is easy to be so. Social media, in particular, seems rife with the dual objectives of creating echo chambers of shared opinions and hurling insults and invectives at “the other side.”
The Stanford/Cornell research suggests that cooling off periods and a shadow ban (where a comment still appears to the poster but is not shown to other commenters) are two effective ways to diminish the self-feeding cycle of negativity that can drive many troll comment deflagrations. The CTI’s measured, respectful and responsive approach to weather external and internal forces calling for change is another. Can we all find it in ourselves to listen carefully, allow differences of opinion to exist without trying to shout out all opposition, and put down the pen or the keyboard when we’re crabby? I hope so.