For Science: New paper examines the whos and whys of online trolling

    
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MOP reader Miol recently pointed us to an intriguing academic paper on trolling. Seriously. “Trolls” or “warriors of faith”? Differentiating dysfunctional forms of media criticism in online comments by Austria-based Tobias Eberwein makes the case that internet comments were a mistake. OK, it’s a lot more nuanced than that, homing in on comments on blogs – like the one you’re reading now – and trying to suss out just what is going on in the minds of the trolling trolls who dwell there.

“Practical experience has shown that user participation does not automatically lead to better journalism but may also result in hate speech and systematic trolling – thus having a dysfunctional impact on journalistic actors. Although empirical journalism research has made it possible to describe various kinds of disruptive follow-up communication on journalistic platforms, it has not yet succeeded in explaining what exactly drives certain users to indulge in flaming and trolling.”

Ultimately, the study used a two-step qualitative research method to interview internet miscreants, determining that the common troll as as we think of it doesn’t actually exist; it prefers to file everything under “dysfunctional follow-up communication.” Subjects who actually responded for the interviews turned out to be mostly Gen-X men with formal educations, strong political opinions, and heavy internet media use; Eberwein used their responses to create five categories of self-described motivation: pursuit of truth, opinion formation, provocation, anger management, and entertainment – the last of which is more like typical trolls.

“It seems to be more appropriate to differentiate disruptive commenters according to their varying backgrounds and motives,” Eberwein argues. “Quite often, the interviewed users display a distinct political (or other) devotion to a certain cause that rather makes them appear as ‘warriors of faith.'”

Maybe not exactly gaming-specific, but definitely relevant to our interests.

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Danny Smith

Penny Arcade, back when they were funny rather than “US GAMER DADS RITE XD” summed this up simply enough:

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Utakata

I’ve never agreed with that editorial cartoon position. As there are lots of people who use anonymity that are not trolls. As there are lots of trolls who use their real name. So anonymity for the most part, has really nothing to do with anyone turning into some internet monstrosity. That’s simply false.

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Giggilybits

I’m sorry I have to disagree with you. My son is a competitive gamer and this is indeed how SOME of them do act and this includes WoW pvp servers.

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Utakata

And the current sitting President is using an alias on his Twitter account? I am pretty sure he using his real name. Yet he acts like that too. And there all sorts of other real name examples of that I could spend all night on.

That said, outside the anecdotal, using WoW is a poor example as everyone uses an alias playing it to a degree. The only ones that can see real names are Blizz’s staff…so I would encourage your son to report those individuals where applicable. Barring that, the Real ID fiasco is demonstrative that exposing everyone’s real name is never a good idea…

…thus I can reasonably conclude taking away the anonymity doth not remove’th the asshole. In someways, it could even enable them to be bigger trolling ones than they already are.

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creationguru

I agree I dont think I its anonymity it’s more in my perspective of no immediate feedback as they would never say this someone’s face that can respond right away or well punch them in the face. It’s an issue I watch happing more and more as worth a technology shield between them and the person the communicate with they can say anything and just walk away cant do that as much in real personal life without a digital cocoon.

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Blazing Coconut

In this case a name doesn’t make you any less anonymous in general internet discourse. It’s the knowledge that you likely never meet the person on the end of the screen. I might know you’re Mike Smith, but of I never have a hope of meeting you, you might as well use a name like Utakata for all it means anything.

In real life being a jackass has repercussions that people learn at a very early age. Treat someone bad enough to their face and you risk starting an altercation where you take a real chance of getting hurt. Treat someone bad enough on the internet and you suffer no risk.

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Zero_1_Zerum

This might come as a surprise to you, but my real name isn’t Zero. I’ve never used my real name Online, if I could help it. I’ve never trolled anyone. I just prefer anonymity and keeping my privacy as intact as possible. I’ve also encountered trolls online who were either anonymous or using their real names. What they had in common is that they were arseholes. Maybe being online, without any face to face social consequences, brought that out. Or maybe they’re really just arseholes 24/7/365, regardless of the context.

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Leiloni

I think it’s interesting that they differentiate commenting trolls from trolls found elsewhere. For example in a game with open world PvP elements, that would be an element of gameplay politics and drama. But commenting trolls is typically a different beast and serves no good purpose. However I think more often than not people aren’t intentionally being antagonistic – I think a lot of people just get really passionate about whatever the topic is and aren’t particularly self aware enough to realize how they’re coming off – or they just don’t care. I think the amount that are only troll purely to flame and derive entertainment from it are a minority. Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity.

Edit: I don’t however, think internet comments are a mistake. In today’s overly online society, comments are often the primary means for public discourse. If everyday people – those without some sort of platform – can’t engage in discussion on topics of importance all over the internet, it greatly stifles the exchange of differing ideas which leads down a dangerous path if only those with power and a voice are heard. Trolls are a small price to pay. In fact I’d argue difficult conversations are often the most important ones to have.

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EmberStar

I think some are just intentionally antagonistic. There was one individual who I shall not name that used to pop up here in every. single. article. even slightly related to NCSoft or Wildstar or Guild Wars 2. For the sole purpose of stating how evil NCSoft is, how horrible anyone who works for them must be, and what utter morons anyone who dares to enjoy their games are. It got to the point where I’m pretty sure she was permanently invited to see what it was like to be banned.

There is at least one here now, that pops up in nearly any article about a specific game with no apparent goal other than to dump on it and say what a superior experience this *other* game is. They don’t do so in a constructive or informative manner, just insults about the one game and fawning adoration for the other.

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Jon Wax

So name em?

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Minimalistway

Comment sections in weblogs is an old debate with 3 main opinions:

– Weblogs are not weblogs if they don’t have comment section (i strongly disagree).
– Weblogs should not have comments.
– It depends.

The idea of “comment sections is a mistake” is as old as the idea of comments themselves, and i somehow agree with this, some scientific websites removed comment sections and they are better off now, but with social media every article will have a comment section anyway.

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Alex Willis

Government-sponsored trolls are basically engineering electoral regime changes the world over, so yeah, I’d say that “internet comments were a mistake” alright.

The part about trolling that confuses me the most is the way that it has been conflated with free speech and the presumption of “rights”. People who cite constitutional latitude as a justification for hate-speech on the digital properties of private enterprise are a special kind of stupid, and yet we still feel the need to accommodate hate speech under these First Amendment-like frameworks. It’s completely baffling to people who don’t live in America (like yours truly) how this narrative has also spread across the entire Internet: America’s greatest contribution to democracy IS actually the First Amendment, and yet in 99.9% of cases of it being cited, it is entirely, egregiously inappropriate.

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Leiloni

The definition of “hate speech” is rather specific and not something I see very often. Most of what I see people referring to as “hate speech” is often merely an opinion they don’t like. The ability to express displeasure of varying degrees is something that I personally find to be very important to protect. Some countries jail people for wrongthink on the internet and that leads down a very dangerous path. Unless someone is literally arguing for violence against a protected class, it’s not hate speech. It’s just something you don’t like, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It may be unpleasant to read, but that’s just something you’ll have to learn to deal with.

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kelvar

Unless someone is literally arguing for violence against a protected class, it’s not hate speech

This is just not true and disappointing to read. I’m sure there are nuances but even if you just do a quick google search of the dictionary definition of the term it doesn’t support your statement.

This is a slippery slope where the bar to what is hate is lowered (abusive or prejudicial) to inciting violence, to actual violence to no protection at all. As someone part of a targetted group (and with direct experience with) it’s something I’m sensitive to. I understand how folks who have never been subjected to it may propose, support or just suggest it’s something else, but it’s not.

Please don’t minimize what hate speech is or the experience of its targets (i.e. it’s often merely an opinion they don’t like)… this just propagates nasty folks’ belief they that have a “right” to spread and promote hate and those impacted by it are just “sensitive” to the opinions of others.

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Leiloni

It’s fine to disagree with my assessment of the term, but the rest of your post is making assumptions about me, a person you don’t know, and then putting words in my mouth.

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kelvar

I made no comments about you anywhere in my post, and by extension no assumptions. I made comments about your statement, a generalized comment about how I could understand how people who have not had that experience may not appreciate the impact (without referencing you or anyone specifically).

I did make a request that hate speech is not minimized which is precisely what your statements did.

You can make whatever assessments of the term you want but the fact of the matter is your assessment is not factual and your reinterpretation of its meaning can be harmful. Apologies if that was not made clear in my original post, hopefully this is now more succinct.

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camelotcrusade

Interesting summary! I went to look for more, but it says “temporarily unavailable.”

Is it trolling us? 👺