Online Trolls Actually Just Assholes All the Time, Study Finds

In other news, water remains wet:

That hypothesis more or less amounts to the idea that humans who would be nicer to each other in person might feel more inclined to get nasty when interacting with other pseudonymous internet users. The researchers found little evidence for that.

Instead, their data pointed to online interactions largely mirroring offline behavior, with people predisposed to aggressive, status-seeking behavior just as unpleasant in person as behind a veil of online anonymity, and choosing to be jerks as part of a deliberate strategy rather than as a consequence of the format involved. They also found some evidence that less hostile people simply aren't as interested in talking about politics on the internet. [...]

One study [...] found that the most aggressive online trolls may tend to be high in cognitive empathy, which allows them to identify when they're pushing someone else's buttons, but low in affective empathy, enabling them to avoid feeling bad or internalizing the suffering they cause. [...] as platforms have "optimized for connectedness, they have negligently optimized for the growth of mob-like communities connecting around noxious yet identity-defining goals." [...]

Bor told Engineering & Technology that the results supported stricter enforcement of rules against hate speech, as it is "not born out of ignorance" and aggressive people are fully aware of how disruptive and harmful their actions are.

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19 Responses:

  1. MattyJ says:

    I was expecting that link to go to The Onion. Goddamn.

  2. Mildred Bonk says:

    Well, so much for the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory.

    • k3ninho says:

      (Reminder if you've not clicked the link: normal person + anonymity + audience = total f__kwad.)

      From my position here with relative anonymity and with some aspect of a megaphone in front of the audience, I'd conclude the other way: People* are arseholes all of the time.

      *: hospitality work teaches us that there are general 'lowercase-p people' and 'capital-p People' and 'People are the worst'.


  3. tfb says:

    It seems to me that there are at least two things here: this study (disclaimer: I've read the link, not the preprint) seems to be all about political stuff, and talks about 'aggressive, status-seeking behavior' (my emphasis). And I'm completely sure that a lot of the people I've seen doing this on the internet are exactly the sort of people who would make me leave the room in person.

    But there's another thing which may or may not be the same. There definitely are people who, when discussing technical things, are much, much more aggressive online than in person. Probably I am one of those people, but certainly Erik Naggum (who I met) was, and I think probably Linus Torvalds is (I haven't met him and also don't read those mailing lists, so I don't really know). Erik was famously rude to people on usenet, but I'm very sure that he was not status-seeking: he just had no time for idiots. I'm also very sure that in person he wasn't like that at all (perhaps though because he thought I was not an idiot).

    So I think , based on entirely anecdotal evidence, that the GIFT is not entirely wrong.

    ... Also, these people writing this crap are 'political' 'scientists': they're definitely libs. Most of them are probably 'academics' and you know what that means.

    • jwz says:

      The privilege of having "no time for idiots" is in fact "status seeking". And Linus is in fact like that in person.

      • tfb says:

        OK on Linus.

        But I think I didn't say what I mean about 'no time for idiots' (or I don't know what 'status seeking' is, or there's a dialect difference). What I meant was that if person x explains something, carefully and correctly, and then whoever they're explaining it to just doesn't bother reading it at all and comes back with the same confusion, and this is repeated enough times (where 'enough' is probably 2) then person x starts being quite rude to the person they've just tried to help. That's what I'd call having no (or limited) time for idiots, and that's what Erik was like.

        In my own world I spend (waste) time trying to explain the mechanisms of climate and cosmology (not in the same conversation) to people and, sometimes, I just lose patience when they won't listen and endlessly repeat the same bullshit, and am abrasive at them (more often, now, I just walk away). I wouldn't do that in person, but I'm certainly not seeking status by doing it.

        • jwz says:

          Yeah, what Erik did is also commonly referred to as "being a prick".

        • Mark says:

          If you genuinely have no time for idiots, then when you reach the conclusion that you're dealing with idiots, you just walk away without wasting your time on being rude to them. The choice to instead be rude, publicly, therefore serves some performative function, and that's the kind of thing that political scientists describe as "status-seeking".

      • /df says:

        Surely Linus has exceeded whatever status he might have been seeking?

      • Lloyd says:

        Just imagine what it's like to be one of Linus's kids!

    • Elusis says:

      ... Also, these people writing this crap are 'political' 'scientists': they're definitely libs. Most of them are probably 'academics' and you know what that means.

      You've gotta learn to conceal those tells if you want to be more successful at trolling.

    • bq Mackintosh says:

      Also, these people writing this crap are 'political' 'scientists': they're definitely libs. Most of them are probably 'academics' and you know what that means.

      They're more qualified to discuss the topic than you?

  4. Norse says:

    Breaking news! social media users are either Machiavellian or overly emotional. Yeah this doesn’t really say anything, file under another persons out of their domain of expertise futile attempt at reverse engineering social media. Also, crony capitalism bait to secure some type of regulatory capture. One hand washes the other type beat

    • jwz says:

      Kind of amazed that this post is bringing a bunch of total dickheads out of the woodwork to say "trolls are nice actually". Defensive much?

      • Bigg says:

        Already two 'Well, acksuallys...' A hit dog will hollar.

      • jwilkes says:

        You should replace your "herp derp" content with pithy one-liners about "crony capitalism" and "regulatory capture."

        Or perhaps an ML algo trained on HN comments. I'd love to click a checkbox to randomly generate endless stories about how poor unnamed uncles have gotten screwed over by their unions

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