A study conducted by researchers at Northwestern University has reached a conclusion that many of us have entertained but dismissed as "not having a study conducted by researchers at Northwestern University behind it." Namely: trolling is like being sloppy drunk.
According to the science guys:
A new study has found that anonymity gives people the same feeling of abandon as power and alcohol intoxication.
"Although these pathways appear to be unrelated on the surface, they all lead to disinhibited states through a common psychological and neurological mechanism," said Jacob Hirsh of the university's Kellogg School of Management.
Dr Hirsh's colleague Professor Adam Galinsky said the loss of inhibition led to "significant behavioural consequences".
Ah, "loss of inhibition!" Is any combination of words sweeter to the ears (and livers) of trolls and drunkards alike? To be a troll is to be transported back to the heady days of frat house "Pre-Saturday Night Party
" parties, where the cheap beer flowed like cheap beer and many bad decisions were made, most of them irrevocable.
Much in the same way that alcohol can turn a fertile mind into a karaoke-singing, one-man party bursting with OPINIONS! (and some vomit), trolling can turn a regular, possibly decent person into an apopleptic nightmare full of half-formed rejoinders and circular logic, which often devolves into schoolyard name-calling flameouts
(well, a schoolyard full of drunks...) or sudden exits from the conversation, presumably to go "sleep it off" on the bathroom floor.
There's more from the professor, which explains a lot of what we see here at Techdirt on a daily basis:
When people lose their inhibitions, they often behave in a manner more consistent with their true motives or character. At the same time, they also tend to be more easily influenced by their environment.
"In effect, disinhibition can both reveal and shape the person, as contradictory as that may sound," Professor Galinsky said.
The end result is that power, alcohol and anonymity can all inspire either strong pro- or anti-social sentiments in people.
The study may help explain why anonymous commentators on the web often appear to hold extreme views.
Extreme views? Anti-social sentiments? Random hollering about someone's day job
? It's all here. And for all the talk about "not feeding the trolls," it's hard to resist, especially when they're packing a buzz and getting the conversational munchies. Besides, who wouldn't want the chance to respond to a non sequitur composed of misspelled words and terrible analogies? We really want to take the high road, but the troll road is like a free ride straight downhill into STFU-ville. (Plus, the troll booths are closed! Bonus!)
Sooner or later, if the subject matter is contentious enough
, the Techdirt comment threads are overrun with loudmouth drunks/trolls, not unlike the state of Wisconsin on any given night
. (Or afternoon.) Ugly words are exchanged and brash statements made, most of them sorely in need of a citation. Hours later, it becomes a wasted blend of ALL CAPS shouting and any number of logical fallacies
, before presumably heading quickly downhill to muted futile sobbing and calls to former sexual acquaintances.
And much like the virtual alcoholics they are, the trolling commenters will rarely let a day go by without a quick pull from the hip flask labelled "Submit," even if they've got nothing more than a quick "FUD" to spit out like an accidentally swallowed cigarette butt. Even the worst of hangovers won't stop the trolloholic from popping in quickly to call someone a liar or misread the byline on a post
So, keep this valuable information in mind, Techdirt readers, the next time you find yourself trapped in an elliptical argument with an armchair Bukowski (sans the everything-that-made-Bukowski-appealing): they're just drunk on trolljuice
, a potent blend of ignorance, anger and "chicken hawk syndrome
How else would you explain this AC's one-man flamewar
, in which he paints every disagreeing commenter with a broad paintbrush dipped in self-hatred (often mistaken for "mockery," but the acidic taste of bile gives it away), painting everything the same ugly shade of misanthropy?
Or this one?
Need one more?
Don't let the Anonymous Coward label fool you, though. Techdirt is filled with thoughtful and humorous AC's, while also serving as a host for a variety of proudly-named trolls. The real trolls are the commenters who show up for one reason: to insult as many Techdirt readers as possible while simultaneously trying to reframe the debate around their own twisted logic. You'd think it would be harder to type with such an outsized chip on your shoulder, but the internet never ceases to amaze.
Trolls, like the ones singled out above, are like the uncle you purposely uninvited to your wedding. The one who shows up anyway and spends the entire night alternately abusing the open bar and the wedding guests, bitterly decrying organized religion and the institution of marriage to anyone who will listen and others who are actively eyeing the exits. He swaggers around in a state of progressive drunkeness, alienating people left and right, before collapsing anti-climatically in the coat room after making a last-ditch pass at your newly-minted sister-in-law.
As the hangover ebbs, he remains secure in his belief that he "totally ripped those backwaters rubes a new one" when in all reality, all he did was pound home the fact that people hate him for a reason.
Trolls, just remember that your spluttering anger and misplaced indignity is often a source of amusement for us. Other times, it's just the same old shit, like when dad starts hitting the sauce and pounding out angry letters to the editor decrying the city council's recent decision to change local street signs to initial caps only. Sure, he seems to be truly perturbed by this now, but by the next day, it's just another piece of paper that ends up going straight from the Smith-Corona into the nearest wastebasket. The only difference is that, thanks to the miracle of THE INTERNET, the "angry letter" can be submitted instantly, 24/7, requiring nothing more of the brainstem-operating troll than the minute amount of hand-eye coordination needed to push a button.
So, bring on the worn-out cries of "Freetard!" and "Kool-Aid!", you trolling lushes. Just remember, our beverage of choice is booze-free.