Trolls often waive their anonymity online

July 25, 2016, University of Zurich

Hate speech in social media can damage or even destroy the reputation of an individual or a company very quickly. Widespread opinion blames the fact that individuals generally write these things anonymously online as the reason for these posts. A research project by the University of Zurich has now shown, however, that trolls are increasingly using their full name online. As a result, a ban on anonymity will likely fail to prevent the feared firestorms but possibly aggravate them even more.

From politicians and celebrities, companies and organizations to individuals of certain nationalities and the socially disadvantaged, the list of parties affected by hate speech in social media is long. Insulting, threatening or derogatory comments are commonplace in today's digital world. The potential consequences of such virtual witch-hunts - whether justified or otherwise - include a loss of reputation, resignations, losing one's job, social isolation or falling share prices. Predominant opinion suggests that it is the supposed online anonymity which decreases the inhibitions of trolls on the internet.

Non-anonymous trolls are becoming increasingly accepted

However, a study by researchers at the University of Zurich has arrived at a very different conclusion. The team under the leadership of Katja Rost from the Institute of Sociology was able to demonstrate that non-anonymous online trolls are increasingly becoming the rule rather than the exception. The evaluation of more than 500,000 social-political comments from around 1,600 online petitions from the German platform http://www.openpetition.de between 2010 and 2013 showed that individuals posting hate speech who were using their full name were even more common than anonymous trolls.

Many online news portals or platforms are endeavoring to put a stop to the coarsening of the language used in comments or in social networks. "As a means of facilitating a civilized digital culture of debate, there are often calls to scrap ", explains sociology doctoral student Lea Stahel. "The opinion prevails that anonymity disinhibits people from committing obviously deviant actions because they can dispense with their own responsibility and are protected from direct consequences." So why are so many online trolls not bothering to remain anonymous?

Giving up your anonymity makes you more credible and more popular

Firstly, many online trolls simply don't consider it necessary to remain anonymous. Rather than purely personal acts of revenge, hate speech is often a reaction to violations of a social norm, such as compliance with environmental or plagiarism standards, or infringements of socially desirable behavior such as political correctness. Why would individuals posting hide if they justify their protest as a moral duty and are standing up for what they believe in? In addition, online trolls can assume that they will scarcely ever be held accountable for their aggression. According to Stahel, it is considered very unlikely that a busy politician or a struggling company would pick precisely that person to sue when overwhelmed with a whole flood of insults.

Anonymity ban does not prevent firestorms

Secondly, trolls can convince and mobilize the other people in their social networks more easily if they appear using their real name. This signalizes a willingness to take a risk in order to state their opinion publicly, thus gaining extra trust. Ideally this can raise their social status, because they move in digital networks like Facebook in "Friend Groups" where their comments resonate thanks to "Shares" and "Likes". "Removing anonymity therefore will not automatically lead to a disappearance of online firestorms. In fact, it might even lead to an increase", advises Lea Stahel.

Explore further: Mapping online hate speech

More information: Katja Rost et al. Digital Social Norm Enforcement: Online Firestorms in Social Media, PLOS ONE (2016). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0155923

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9 comments

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julianpenrod
2.3 / 5 (6) Jul 25, 2016
Again, the calculated and sleazy misrepresentation of "hate". Among other things, note that terms like "insulting" and "derogatory" are used and, at one point, it is even indicated that criticisms, even condemnations, may be warranted! To be insulting, to be criticizing, even to be offensive is not necessarily to be hateful! But the term "hate" has been twisted recently to designate anything but absolute, utter and complete acceptance. To express, even in a reasoned way, faults of an individual is often to end up having the comment termed "hateful". It can be important, the idea of someone being incorrectly attacked or harmed by that attack, but it is easy to see the article as geared more toward trying to make sympathetic "victims" of individuals or organizations actually deserving of condemnation.
ditty00
1 / 5 (1) Jul 25, 2016
@julianpenrod
Apparently someone thought your comment was either hateful or trolling (getting a rating of 1)...I thought it was well thought out and accurate...so I gave you a 5
Eikka
5 / 5 (4) Jul 25, 2016
Again, the calculated and sleazy misrepresentation of "hate".


Hate in the context of trolling means ill-justified and unreasoned and unreasonable attacks designed to create a reaction. It's not about the comment itself being hateful or even explicitly expressing hate, but about it being an attempt to incite hate.

It's propaganda speech, demagoguery, like how the yellow papers twist and spin information according to their political agenda - only on a personal level.

Reasoned criticism, even insulting and hateful, does not fall into that category.

But the term "hate" has been twisted recently to designate anything but absolute, utter and complete acceptance.

That's exactly an example of trolling right there. Reduction ad absurdum over a strawman - an ill-concieved argument against an imaginary foe. It's saying: "They are trying to fool you, don't trust them, trust me! I know who the enemy is and what they have done."

Well why should we?
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Jul 25, 2016
In general, people with nothing to say talk about themselves.

And people with no evidence or argument offer themselves as such.

That's why it's even advisable to hold anyone who is -not- anonymous under suspicion online. Reputation doesn't mean anything anymore because people's identities get lost in the sea of other people and if your face is not on the side of a bus, nobody will remember your name 15 minutes later.

The reason why trolls are increasingly non-anonymous is exactly that people have learned to filter out anonymous comments as noise and only pay attention if someone actually says something worth thinking about. An anonymous troll is just characters on a screen - they might as well come from a random number generator.

People have yet to realize the same on people with names and identities, who present themselves as authorities simply because they are "somebody" rather than the nobody they actually are.

NIPSZX
5 / 5 (1) Jul 25, 2016
I am Joe! B*tch!

Just kidding. LoL!

Could Trump have something to do with this new wave?
MandoZink
5 / 5 (2) Jul 26, 2016
It's very funny to watch some people get defensive when the subject of trolls is examined.

It seems the very topic angers said trolls who come out to spew ever more ugliness into what otherwise might be a congenial and productive discussion.

Surely most of us appreciate good post-article discussions, sans the utterly useless auto-contrarian positions of the troll.

I do.
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (1) Jul 26, 2016
That's exactly an example of trolling right there. Reduction ad absurdum over a strawman - an ill-concieved argument against an imaginary foe. It's saying: "They are trying to fool you, don't trust them, trust me! I know who the enemy is and what they have done."
But then if they are trying to fool us by lying and making up facts, and they refuse to stop after repeated criticism, then it is not trolling to alert people as to who they are and what they are doing.

Trolls who are behaving this way are trashing their own reps whether they have control over their actions or not.

Is it trolling to have a pathological compulsion to lie and cheat?
Eikka
not rated yet Jul 27, 2016
Is it trolling to have a pathological compulsion to lie and cheat?


Trolling is an act, not an attribute, so no.

Being a pathological liar may accompany someone to troll incessantly, but since trolling is about getting a reaction - it's more like a child bullying another - it's not necessarily about lying. The "best" trolls tell nothing but the truth - carefully selected and vetted - to get what they want out of people.

Trolling is fundamentally about getting other people to become angry, to incite anger, or to cause someone to make themselves ridiculous in an angry outburst.

"Trolls aspire to violence, to the level of trouble they can cause in an environment. They want it to kick off. They want to promote antipathetic emotions of disgust and outrage, which morbidly gives them a sense of pleasure."
-Tim Adams


Some people just want to watch the world burn, so they deliberately talk trash to get more and more people angry to get a real fight going.
MandoZink
not rated yet Jul 28, 2016
What I learned long ago:is this:

If you respond to a troll with factual, relevant information and they simply choose to continue to be nasty, then quit responding.... PERIOD!

You have better things to do.

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