Study: Trolls Are Even Worse When Using Real Names

from the it's-not-the-anonymity dept

It’s a bit of “common wisdom” on the internet that you hear people repeat all the time, even though it’s hogwash: the idea that people act trollishly online because they’re anonymous. So many people want to blame the anonymity and demand real name policies. Yet, as we’ve been pointing out for many years, plenty of people troll under their real names — and tons of valuable content is posted by anonymous users (including right here at Techdirt).

And now we’ve got a bit of research to back that up. Some recent research found that trolls can actually act even worse when they troll under their real name. From the research:

Results show that in the context of online firestorms, non-anonymous individuals are more aggressive compared to anonymous individuals. This effect is reinforced if selective incentives are present and if aggressors are intrinsically motivated.

Now, this is just one report on one dataset, and there may be a variety of other factors at play. But it certainly matches with our own experience here as well. The idea that people only act like jackasses because they’re anonymous just doesn’t fit with the pattern we’ve seen in the over 1 million comments we have on this site. Yes, sometimes there are anonymous jerks, just like there are sometimes named jerks. But on the whole, anonymity doesn’t seem to magically lead to worse comments.

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Comments on “Study: Trolls Are Even Worse When Using Real Names”

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29 Comments
Christenson says:

Re: Where's *THAT* anonymous coward??

The trolling mindset isn’t any different than anyone else’s:

Trolls do what rewards them. The rewards are just different — like validating one’s anger.

When Techdirt puts in the right words, it breaks the reward cycle. There are of course, other ways, like moderation, but that also involves human effort.

Paul Hansmeier, anyone?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: interesting and non-intuitive

Yep, a lot of people feel the need to double down the stupid when their names are attached.

Instead of thinking about why people are railing against them they expend effort to spew a flurry of bullshit to drown the other out. It was never about critical thinking just shutting up the opposition.

Anyone that disagrees is a fucking Islamophobic, Racist, Bigoted, Misogynist, Xenophobic, Homophobic fuck-stick!

Getting the picture yet?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Mostly fits my observations

I have never noticed a correlation between anonymity and propensity for trolling in any forum I’ve paid attention to. I’ve never noticed non-anonymous trolls being worse than anonymous ones, either, though.

But then, it’s hard to see how this could be effectively measured since it’s impossible to know if a commenter is using their real name or just a pseudonym name that sounds real.

I suspect that the real underlying correlation isn’t anonymity but the fact that nobody has to look anyone in the face while they speak.

JustShutUpAndObey says:

The real take-away

The real take-away from this is that it is just one more confirmation that instinct and common-sense are not to be relied upon. This rule should be applied everywhere.
E.g., We all assume that laws applying penalties will reduce violations of those laws. That’s just common sense, right? But there is plenty of evidence that it’s not true.

michael (profile) says:

I was surprised by this ...

I also thought trolls hid behind anonymity. But then I joined NextDoor, which is like Facebook for your neighborhood or community.

The open racism, confrontational attitudes, and flagrant trolling by neighbors I’d never met (and I live in a pretty close-knit community) and whose name and address are prominently displayed on the site was shocking.

Turns out it’s not the anonymity; it’s just that some people are assholes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: I was surprised by this ...

Still wrong, peer pressure will cause people to be even more of an asshole.

when people get to be anonymous they will often relax some prejudices because they are no longer “socially responsible” to be that way.

Example, Black man call white man a cracker. Not much out rage.
White man calls a Black man a nigger and all fucking hell breaks loose then people need to lose their jobs and families lose their bread winners!

Yesterdays oppressed are tomorrows oppressors. Humans will never be fair to each other! Historical Fact!

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m a jerk when I’m anonymous. I’m mild mannered when people know who I am, or even if I’m using one of my more common online pseudonyms.

Why? Because sometimes I like to troll. Sometimes people have opinions that I agree with, but I want to see them defend their positions. Some people have come to (what I consider) good conclusions with bad methods. Sometimes it’s just funny. I’ve done it here. I routinely do it at Gawker (they’re all hilarious over there…everyone gets so up in arms about everything). I used to do it on Reddit, but gave up.

Everyone assumes when I admit that I’m a troll that I have some sort of psychological need to break down others to make myself feel better. Untrue. I feel pretty good about myself no matter whether I’m trolling or not. They assume that I’m a kid who has nothing better to do. I’m a professional making about triple the average household income for my area. They assume I’m a republican, democrat, libertarian, left wing nut, right wing kook, or some other political ideology. I’m actually an issue voter. Everyone’s assumptions about me are completely wrong.

I say all that to say this: It’s surprising that people would troll using real (or even “regular”) names to troll. I wouldn’t want it associated with me. Maybe that’s because of who I am and what I do for a living. Maybe it’s because anonymous idiocy should be taken with a grain of salt and that makes it palatable. Maybe I’m just not normal in the world of trolls.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re:

I troll, but not in an abusive way. What I do is ask awkward questions that point out the flaws in the other person’s arguments for their positions. The more authoritarian they are, the more I ask them about the elephants crowding their particular rooms.

People with more open minds tend to be impervious to this because they’re more willing to consider alternatives to what they believe.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

one persons troll...

…is another person’s devil’s advocate…
i REALLY dont get why people are so wierded out, put off, or upset by so-called trolls: you dont like what they said ? ignore it and move on., what is so fucking difficult about that ?
just seems like crybabies who dont really like free speech (and there are FAR too many willing to sacrifice free and unfettered free speech for the sake of ‘niceness’, those people are fools who can not reason…)

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: one persons troll...

Yeah, this is how I feel.

The only time trolling really irritates me is when it takes over the comments, and no effective discussion related to the actual article can take place. But that sort of thing is the fault of everyone engaging the troll more than anything (I’m guilty of this from time to time).

Left unchecked, trolling can destroy destroy a community, though. The classic example would be the YouTube comment section of old. A comment section like that is no better than not having a comment section at all.

My favorite approach to the whole issue is Slashdot’s, although it is certainly imperfect. Techdirt’s works well enough, too, although I do wish there was a way to collapse comment threads. I think that would allow people who love to troll or be trolled to do their thing, but still keep it usable for those who aren’t interested.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: one persons troll...

Abusive behaviour and attitudes can create a very hostile environment. Communities are destroyed when the admins don’t bother to moderate properly, or when the admins of particular websites ignore bad behaviour from members whose activities take place on other websites, i.e. when they’re going after community members via other platforms. It happened to me. I ended up quitting and am sad to say that this cross-platform community collapsed in the end because the trolls were given free rein.

Skeeter says:

Trolling, or Harsh Truth?

Well, one of the problems with the modern ‘Politically Correct’ socially engineered society is that people have zero tolerance for ANYTHING. You can’t speak the truth, you can’t open debate, you can’t voice a counterpoint without having ‘TROLL’ stamped on your conversation. In that case, the concept of dialectic conversation, a ‘sharing of ideas’ or the ephimeral ‘agreement to disagree’ is utterly abandoned. Labeled with ‘TROLLING’ it is ‘all-or-none’, and the majority rams their ideas down the throats of the minority.
Trolling, or heated argument (whether informed or not), few can define it enough to actually say who is trolling, and who isn’t.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Trolling, or Harsh Truth?

This is why the “Troll” argument is such a red herring, a blatant attempt to mislead people into thinking their argument is bunk.

I do not care if the person is playing devils advocate, the discourse itself IS the merit.

People running around calling others trolls are the real problem. If you do not like what someone says, just ignore it. Paying it any mind only lends it more power!

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