Internet trolls are just as vicious online as they are in real life, according to a new study that debunks the theory that people are nicer in real life than when they can post anonymously on websites.
Researchers also found that people who are nice can choose to avoid all political discussions online — whether the forums are hostile or not, according to the study published in the American Political Science Review.
The researchers, with the Department of Political Science at Aarhus University, did find that the hostility levels of online political discussions are worse than offline discussions.
Michael Bang Petersen, the professor who co-authored the study, told the magazine: Technique and technology that an internet troll’s behavior is “much more visible” than the same person’s behavior offline.
“Our research shows that the reason many people feel that online political discussions are so hostile has to do with the visibility of aggressive behavior online,” Peterson told the magazine.
Internet trolls are online just as often as they are in real life, according to a new study that debunks the theory that people are nicer in real life than if they can post anonymously on websites
The study published in the American Political Science Review by researchers from the Department of Political Science at Aarhus University
The researchers started the article with an apparent dig at Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who was named Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” in 2010.
“Facebook wants to populate the wilderness, tame the howling mob and turn the lonely, antisocial world of chance into a friendly one,” reads the Time Magazine article on Zuckerberg, as quoted by the researchers.
The researchers noted that efforts by social media giants to engage people in social discussions on topics such as politics have failed spectacularly.
“Online discussions about politics turned out to be mean, brash and nowhere near short enough,” the researchers wrote.
The researchers quoted a 2017 Pew Research Center survey that found that 62% of Americans believe online harassment has become a major problem for the country.
“There appears to be a hostility gap where online discussions are perceived as significantly more hostile than offline discussions,” the researchers wrote.
A graph shows the distribution of discussions perceived as hostile online versus offline in the United States and Denmark
A graph shows that people in both the United States and Denmark witnessed hostility towards strangers far greater than towards friends or themselves
A graph shows a high correlation between self-reported online and offline political hostility
While conducting their research, the researchers considered the “mismatched hypothesis” – one of the most prevalent theories in the academic debate about online hostility.
The mismatch hypothesis states that people who are “otherwise pleasant” can become nasty trolls if they can’t physically see the person they’re arguing with.
Alexander Bor, a postdoctoral researcher who co-authored the study, tweeted about the study’s results.
“The people who are hateful on Twitter also insult others in personal conversations,” Bor tweeted.
There are “many psychological reasons,” there are many reasons people can get angry online, and that “quick written form of communication can easily lead to misunderstandings,” Bor told Engineering & Technology magazine.
He said the best way to deal with online hostility would be to monitor online shapers through methods such as heavy moderation.
“We cannot eliminate online hate through education because it is not born of ignorance. Hostile people know their words hurt and that’s why they use them,” Bor told the outlet.
‘Our research suggests that it is necessary to describe per specific discussion page what is and what is not allowed and to monitor those standards, for example by deploying moderators.’
In the conclusions of the study, the researchers noted that future studies could evaluate whether the actions of provocateurs such as the infamous Russian internet research firm could arouse hostility in nice people by hijacking online discussions.
The study indicated that ‘aggression is not an accident caused by unfortunate circumstances, but a strategy’ [hostile people] to get what they want, including a sense of status and dominance in online networks.”