Study Suggests Assholes Online Are Routinely Assholes Offline

from the mirror-mirror-on-the-wall dept

A new study published in the American Science Review found that that if you’re an asshole troll online, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re the same way in the brick and mortar world. The researchers used representative surveys and behavioral studies from the U.S. and Denmark to try and figure out if it the novel and relatively new internet was somehow making normal human beings more hostile. But as the researchers point out on Twitter, they found no real evidence for that:

In short if you’re a hostile person online, you’re probably a hostile person offline. And while Facebook has a lot of obvious problems on a wide variety of fronts, it’s not inherently responsible for somehow creating human dysfunction that already existed. The researchers told Engineering and Technology that online debates seem more hostile because the hostile players simply have a bigger bullhorn, and the resulting chaos they create has much broader visibility than it would in the offline world:

“Our research shows that the reason many people feel that online political discussions are so hostile has to do with the visibility of aggressive behaviour online. Online discussions occur in large public networks and the behaviour of an internet troll is much more visible than the behaviour of this same person in an offline setting,? said Michael Bang Petersen, professor of political science at the university.”

Obviously none of this is to say online platforms don’t have responsibility to do a better job protecting users from violence, hostility, racism, or general jackassery. Nor does this mean the ad-based internet ecosystem — be it the press or social media — doesn’t have a problem with amplifying inflammatory bullshit, resulting in numerous business models where inflammatory bullshit is more profitable than boring old factual reality.

But it does suggest that terrible people are inherently terrible, in contrast to the claim on some fronts that the internet is magically creating them. As Gizmodo notes, research fairly consistently suggests “toxic online political discussions are disproportionately driven by malicious individuals taking advantage of the megaphone offered”:

“One study published in the Personality and Individual Differences journal in 2017 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. Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard affiliate and data engineer Devin Gaffney wrote for Bennington Magazine that as platforms have ?optimized for connectedness, they have negligently optimized for the growth of mob-like communities connecting around noxious yet identity-defining goals.? One 2018 study in the International Journal of Public Opinion Research found a bleed-over effect in which nasty online comments ?increase perceived bias in a news blog post to which they are connected,? essentially dragging down the whole discussion with them.”

Again, the internet clearly creates a wide swath of new problems we’ll need to overcome through scientific and democratic processes with the hindsight of experience. And it’s abundantly clear that process is going to be downright ugly at times. But again, it’s not the internet mystically creating armies of assholes; it’s just a broader window into — and amplifier for — the parades of assholes that were already there.

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Comments on “Study Suggests Assholes Online Are Routinely Assholes Offline”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: suggests

… then you should not make unsupported assertions about use of the word ‘confusing’.

‘Confusing’ in this study context means poorly written and edited, requiring substantial effort by the reader to eventually discern the author’s meaning.

Meta-Analysis statistical studies are inherently flawed due to lack of uniformity in the individual methododologies being bunched together. Cherry-Picking the studies in the meta-analysis is a major problem, as in this Danish study.
Self-Reporting and totally non-representative sampling are also huge methodology problems in this Danish study.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: suggests

It seems you are dismissing the findings of Alexander Bor, one of the authors of the study and the cited basis for the claims of the article, and have come to differing conclusions. Perhaps you could elucidate where you think the paper goes wrong in its analysis, given the above article cites the author telling you the conclusions of the paper? Important quote below:

Surprisingly, we found no evidence for this hypothesis. Across four representative samples, we find remarkably high correlations between self-reports of online and offline political hostility. The people hateful on Twitter offend others in face-to-face conversations too

Your actual analysis that results in disagreement with this finding by one of the study’s authors would be helpful. You clearly have the background to know and things like pointing out contradictory studies not selected for use or noting where the chosen studies differed in methodology in material ways would certainly help give your analysis credit, rather than relying on the generic issues with meta-analysis. One way to dodge those issues is to pick and choose well-regarded studies that have similar methodologies to reduce noise from bad studies or those with conflicting methodologies. You’d almost have to pick and choose methodologies to find compatible data, and so barring both would almost seem like an inability to compare studies at all.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: suggests

Also need to question, why do you keep calling it "this Danish study". This study already identifies your subject. Why does its country of origin matter? Is there something about danish people that changes the results? Maybe danish Homogeneity?

Finally, your issues with self reporting…..are exactly why the word suggests is being used. It isn’t proof. What it is, is an avenue for further study that challenges assumptions about what drives negative behavior. They aren’t misrepresenting this study as "proving" anything, which seems to be how you are taking it.

Anonymous Coward says:

I must say, not convinced by this… let’s look at the psychology of fetishes, people act out in a way that let’s them indulge in something they can’t experience in the real world, usually because they are constrained by something beyond their control. I

I am not a dick in the real world, but the only outlet I have is to shout at dumbassss online because thats the only way I can feel like I have… something, I don’t know what.

The entire premise of this study is that its self reported. When an aspect of emotional psychology is under a microscope, who answers honestly? You may get 10-20% of factual answers, but you’ll never know which percentage is accurate.

But thats just my opinion. And qm i saying stuff to garner opinion? Do i potentially know what im saying? YOU DONT KNOW, so who am I to say this is wrong, but who are they to say this is right?

Anonymous Coward says:

The internet exposes you to people and viewpoints you may never actually come across in real life so it leaves a lot more opportunities to to end up arguing with an idiot. For every stupid ass arguments I participate it in in person I don’t even want to know how many I have online. It really is an excellent outlet so you don’t carry that shit around waiting for someone IRL to argue with and maybe destroy a relationship in the process.

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