Uncivil and manipulative behaviors on the internet will persist and may get worse.
Say fabricated news stories cause a great deal of confusion about the basic facts of current issues, events and disparate sets of rumors that combine can shape public discourse and, at times, potentially lead to dangerous behavior.
There are more people who will complain online in an attempt to get attention, sympathy, or retribution. Trolls now know that their methods are effective and carry only minimal chance of social stigma and essentially no other punishment.
Trolling is done by a small, vocal minority of sociopathic individuals. Past research on trolling, which focused on interviewing these individuals. Some studies even showed that trolls have predisposing personal and biological traits, such as sadism and a propensity to seek excessive stimulation.
If a discussion begins with a “troll comment,” then it is twice as likely to be trolled by other participants later on, compared to a discussion that does not start with a troll comment.
In fact, these troll comments can add up. The more troll comments in a discussion, the more likely that future participants will also troll the discussion. Altogether, these results show how the initial comments in a discussion set a strong, lasting precedent for later trolling.
Since trolling is situational, and ordinary people can be influenced to troll, such behavior can end up spreading from person to person. A single troll comment in a discussion – perhaps written by a person who woke up on the wrong side of the bed – can lead to worse moods among other participants, and even more troll comments elsewhere. As this negative behavior continues to propagate, trolling can end up becoming the norm in communities if left unchecked.
By understanding what leads to trolling, we can now better predict when trolling is likely to happen. This can let us identify potentially contentious discussions ahead of time and preemptively alert moderators, who can then intervene in these aggressive situations.
Altering the context of a discussion, by prioritizing constructive comments, can increase the perception of civility. Even just pinning a post about a community’s rules to the top of discussion pages helps.
It’s also important to differentiate the impact of a troll comment from the author’s intent: Did the troll mean to hurt others and spread misinformation, or was he or she just trying to express a different viewpoint? This can help separate undesirable individuals from those who just need help communicating their ideas.
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