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The Internet Science

Why Trolls and Flames Happen 331

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the some-things-will-never-change dept.
AnonymousHack writes "New Scientist examines why people are in general more rude and abusive online. 'Psychologically, we are "distant" from the person we're talking to and less focused on our own identity. As a result we're more prone to aggressive behavior' says one psychologist, who also cites research showing messages received by email are always perceived more negatively than on the phone." Just more proof for the Greater Internet F***wad Theory.
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Why Trolls and Flames Happen

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  • Duh. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Chysn (898420) on Monday November 19, 2007 @02:07PM (#21410859)
    Ooh, more DISTANT. I hadn't thought of THAT before. Jesus Christ. Idiots.
  • by ackthpt (218170) * on Monday November 19, 2007 @02:08PM (#21410879) Homepage Journal

    There is a newsgroup, perhaps not too unlike many others, where a troll has taken up residence. He insults members and has found some method of posting every few minutes a lot of gibberish under various names and forged addresses.

    This person is a degree or two off the usual troll who just likes to make some preposterous post and watch people take the bait and go. This one is actively trying to destroy the group with crap-flooding and there appears little members can do about it. There's also some halfwit posting MI5 [google.com] crap across many newsgroups. Alas, Google News doesn't appear to allow filtering. Does reporting abuse every work?

    Some newsgroups are still alive and thriving, but others seem to be losing regular posters to blog sites, I expect because they are freed from the harrassment of trolls, spammers and crapflooders by a moderator who will simply delete their garbage.

    My ISP had a NEWS server, but shut it down for economic reasons and pointed out I could just use Google News. Feh.

    I've given some thought over the weekend whether USENET can survive and whether anonymity also can survive. The more people abuse a system, the less eventual resistance there will be to the heavy hand of moderators or even government. I expect at some point bills requiring tagging and tracking of every email and every post on the internet being required by law with few people actually coming to the defence of anonymity, because they have had their own fill of trolls an crackers. It may come in on the wind of some means of fighting terrorism or protection of IP (a la RIAA & MPAA, among others) but it will encompass all.

    Anonymous Cowards enjoy the present. I think the trolls are undermining us all and they really don't care if they lose anonymity and privacy, they're called trolls for a reason.

    Lastly, no, this isn't a troll. Notice I didn't post anonymously. I am genuinely concerned about this as I lament the ills befalling open forms such as USENET and email.

    • by Heywood J. Blaume (858386) on Monday November 19, 2007 @02:29PM (#21411213)
      Use Firefox. Use the Greasemonkey script Google Groups Killfile to eliminate MI5 and whatever else from Google Groups.
      http://www.getfirefox.com/ [getfirefox.com]
      https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/748 [mozilla.org]
      http://www.penney.org/ggkiller.html [penney.org]
    • by xtracto (837672)
      There is a newsgroup, perhaps not too unlike many others, where a troll has taken up residence. He insults members and has found some method of posting every few minutes a lot of gibberish under various names and forged addresses.

      Yeah, I used to frequent to comp.os.linux.advocacy to enjoy quality time reading the flames and trolls... that was until slashdot became my main source for those.

    • by elrous0 (869638) *
      Some usenet trolls have become famous in their own right. There is one infamous one on virtually every newsgroup. I still run into trollers like Blig Merk at alt.games.video.xbox and John Shocked on alt.battlestar-galactica (along with their various aliases). I would go on with the list, but I already feel like a complete nerd just listing those two NG's. I'll stop before I start detailing the trollers on the Star Trek NG's and confirm my total geek status.
  • Hmmm (Score:2, Insightful)

    by HairyNevus (992803)
    Does this mean every flame and troll post in this thread will get modded +1 Insightful for demonstrating the principle of the article?
    • by sm62704 (957197)
      Does this mean every flame and troll post in this thread will get modded +1 Insightful

      And that's different from any other slashdot story exactly how? Go for "funny" and you get "insightful". Go for "offtopic" and you get "funny." Go for troll and you get this [kuro5hin.org].

      That link from 2003, BTW, is about OFFLINE trolling, proving these bozos wrong.

      -mcgrew

      PS- Since you are a nerd, it is your duty to troll the cave man jocks [slashdot.org]
  • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Monday November 19, 2007 @02:13PM (#21410953)
    The faceless experience of being online is not just limited to rudeness, but other behavior too. People who would never buy porn at a newsstand will surf porn. People who would never go naked on a beach will pose naked for online dating.

    This is all to be expected. "Civilaised society", whatever that means, comes from feedback. That feedback is significantly reduced by a computer interaction or by excessive alcohol etc. resulting in less inhibited behaviour online or when pissed.

    • by xtracto (837672)
      The faceless experience of being online is not just limited to rudeness, but other behavior too. People who would never buy porn at a newsstand will surf porn.
      Lol, that just reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend when back when I was in the University (around 1999). We where talking about pr0n rental shops, and I told him

      " I will never understand how is it that there is people who actually PAYS to see porn... I mean, you should be really fucked up to have to actually pay to get it",

      to w
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Andrewkov (140579)
      Same reason people will cut you off on the road, but not at the grocery line. Being distant and anonymous makes people feel less empathy, or something. Maybe people only act politely when there is a chance that they will be called on their behavior?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 19, 2007 @02:15PM (#21410979)
    I think that when you post to a forum, showing off a coin
    for example, that when people post their opinion anything
    negative is seen as a troll or a flame.

    They go into the post thinking this is fun not realizing
    that criticism should be welcome and can improve them as
    a collector.

    Or another person may simply not like their coin, see problems
    with it they do not, or know they paid too high a price.

    All this combined makes others think they are being negative
    for no good reason and should have simply ignored the post
    and moved on.

    I disagree with these people who have thin skin and should
    be happy they got honest feedback from someone who could
    very well know much more then them.

    Hey, as long as they do not use name-calling they should be
    free to be as negative about the topic as they like. I find
    i learn more from the negative comments that get discussed
    then from the people who simply say, "nice coin" just to be nice.
  • He is am impatient utopianist who, now that the soft sell has failed, wants to become a tyrant. So says anyone who is not a commie bastard! Agree with me or get lost!
    • by Foofoobar (318279)

      He is am impatient utopianist...
      Utopianist? I didn't know he could play the Utopiano. Wow he IS multi-talented
    • Dammit, Steve Ballmer--quit trolling Slashdot!
  • This is nothing new (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rodney dill (631059) on Monday November 19, 2007 @02:21PM (#21411085) Journal
    This is not related just to the electronic age. If anyone has ever written a letter to you with some criticism (e.g. parental letter) It is usually a far more cutting communication than person to person. Phone communication is somewhere in the middle. I once had a work associate that I communicated with email (at first) almost exclusively. His notes were condescending, pontificating, degrading... without apparent purpose. He was somewhat better on the phone. Eventually when I dealt with him in person he was somewhat reasonable.
    • by dekemoose (699264)
      Yeah, I've seen this a lot. At a former employer of mine there was a particular VP who was a screaming a-hole when communicating via email, demanding, unreasonable and altogether unpleasant. When dealing with him in person he was rather bashful, almost apologetic for bothering me with his silly requests. Never could figure him out.
  • That's BS (Score:5, Funny)

    by crvtec (921881) on Monday November 19, 2007 @02:22PM (#21411097) Homepage
    My coworker sits right next to me. He's not distant at all, and still trolls every comment I post.
  • by zappepcs (820751) on Monday November 19, 2007 @02:23PM (#21411117) Journal

    "New Scientist examines why people are in general more rude and abusive online [CC].
    This "research team" has never been to a LA rush hour turkey shoot, now have they? And it is quite obvious to even the most calm observer that they have not yet experienced a proper football match in Europe.

    WTF? People are rude everywhere. Now don't get me wrong, dear reader. Of course I do not mean you, but the two idiots on either side of your cubicle, yes THEM, those hideous bastards and their soccer practicing spouses.

    Clearly, this research team did all their research reading emails inside a nice warm coffee shop in Seattle, AND if you lift the rock off their heads, I'm betting both ears are flattened.

    By the way, Flat Ear Syndrome (FES) has been diagnosed as affecting 1 in three research scientists by doctors at UCLA and WSU. Pfizer, working closely with the Bursars office of these highly respected institutes, has develope UnfesION, that relieves the symptoms of FES in 1 out of 16 patients with no dramatic side effects. Note: consult with your physician before taking UnfesION. Side effects may include; sudden outbreaks of common sense, clarity of vision, actual merit based grant funding, possible curricular related job opportunities, and possible respect among the greater community.
  • ... I would say Kudos for the elaborate AI displayed (so much for the 'online editorial assistant').

    Otherwise, I would recommend some reading, this [google.com] search gives a good start.

    CC.
  • that this kind of "emotional distance" is behind ganking [wikipedia.org].

    And not the fact that my WoW character's name is Gnomestompy.

    Although that seems to piss off a lot of gnomes.

  • Able to vent. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by iknownuttin (1099999) on Monday November 19, 2007 @02:25PM (#21411159)
    Another obvious factor is that, if you insult someone online, it's unlikely you'll face any physical retaliation for it.

    I'd like to add: or be fired, yelled a by your wife, etc....

    Commenting online is a why to vent anger at at shit you can't normally vent at. I've seen many comment here about how "stupid" their management or users are/is. And I bet, most of the time, folks wouldn't talk like that at work - but they do here. I think being online is a way to deal with aggression. In short, I'd rather have you folks flame me, or whatever, online than shoot me at work.

    • Commenting online is a why to vent anger at at shit you can't normally vent at. I've seen many comment here about how "stupid" their management or users are/is.
      And that has absolutely nothing to do with trolling, which are attempts at generating anger in others.
    • by mdielmann (514750)
      [Spelling Nazi Mode]
      I'd like to add: or be fired, yelled at by your wife, etc....

      Commenting online is a way to vent anger (removed: at) at shit you can't normally vent at. I've seen many comment here about how "stupid" their management or users are/is. And I bet, most of the time, folks wouldn't talk like that at work - but they do here. I think being online is a way to deal with aggression. In short, I'd rather have you folks flame me, or whatever, online than shoot me at work.
      [/Spelling Nazi Mode]

      Only 3?
  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Monday November 19, 2007 @02:26PM (#21411177)
    When we write online, most people keep it fairly short - partly because their readers won;t read past the first paragraph (and they want to get a lot of stuff in) and partly because writing is quite slow - especially when you have to think, write, re-read, correct and then commit.

    This is in contrast to spoken communication, which is much easier to assimilate and can therefore go on for longer. It also contains more emotion than simple writing, so the actual words are less important than the intonation - which is almost completely missing from text.

    People frequently mistake short comments for either sarcasm or impatience and this gives the impression that written communication (esp. in email, netnews) that the writer does not respect the audience.

    I beleive this is incorrect, when I insult someone they will be left in no doubt they have been insulted. I think over time, most people will come to realise the difference between rudeness and terseness. There will always be a few however, who take exception at everything. there's no helping these individuals.

  • Research on this phenomenon has been ongoing for some time. Here's an excellent summary: http://www.pointlesswasteoftime.com/monkeysphere.html [pointlesswasteoftime.com]
  • I think I've come to realize that people aren't that much different online than off. The difference being that posts are persistent. You can easily ignore something someone said, but when its sitting there in print it affects you more. Its more obvious.
  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Monday November 19, 2007 @02:37PM (#21411339)
    Science has not yet discovered a way to transmit a punch across the Internet. Until such a time, people will continue to be rude because there are few if any consequences for their actions.
  • The threat of a punch in the mouth is a great deterrent to rude behaviour.
    • by jedidiah (1196)
      Except a punch in the mouth can be prosecuted as a
      felony and leaves the perpetrator open to civil suit.
      This isn't Tombstone minus the six shooters. You can't
      just go around attacking people for being troll and
      expect not to suffer more than the troll did.

  • by dave562 (969951)
    His theory is full of shit! How does this crap get posted on Slashdot? Everyone who responds to this story is a fucktard. I'm going to go play WoW in my Whine window running on a virtualized copy of Ubuntu that I'm running on my bug free OSX Leotard 10.5 uber super shiny silver box. And oh yeah, I'm going to call the author of this story on my iPhone and give him a piece of my mind about why the gPhone blows chunks.
  • by Odiumjunkie (926074) on Monday November 19, 2007 @02:40PM (#21411393) Journal
    >Recently there has been a sharp increase in the amount of abusive language on the New Scientist website.

    Oh, how very fucking _interesting_! Sounds just like the kind of impartial, thoughtful introduction that heralds a fucking well-balanced scientific curio doesn't it? It's on an intellectual par with Schrödinger postulating about quantum mechanics because his damned cat wouldn't stop shitting on the carpet. Bra-fucking-vo.

    >My pet theory about why people behave so rudely is that online commenting is treated, by most people, like a pub conversation

    Oh yeah? Well _my_ pet theory is that you're fucking retarded. What's your local pub? The "make up spurious claims & expect people to be interested in them"?
    >After being described a few weeks ago as "a self-lobotomised liberal who can't face the facts", I decided to look into the psychology of online behaviour a bit further.

    You don't need a shitting psychology decree to know that's called fucking rampart narcissism, you self-interested jackass.

    >Psychologically, we are "distant" from the person we're talking to and less focused on our own identity. As a result we're more prone to aggressive behaviour, he says.

    Well that's fucking retarded, all I can think about when reading your mastabatory drivel is how awesome I am in comparison.

    >Another factor influencing online communication, according to Epley, is simply the risk of miscommunication involved with text-based messages, which are inherently more ambiguous.

    Nothing ambiguous about how much of a shit-eating moron you are, you must be a master of textual precision.

    >Another obvious factor is that, if you insult someone online, it's unlikely you'll face any physical retaliation for it.

    Look at brave Mr. New-Scientist-Blogger! People won't insult him in _real_ _life_ because if they do, he fucks their shit up for them! If he invents a way to stab people in the face over the internet, I'm in real fucking trouble.

    >I'm not sure what we can do to minimise miscommunication and abuse online. But being aware that we're not as good at communication online as we'd like to think seems like a good start. I know I often have to restrain myself from joining in.

    Didn't fucking restrain yourself hard enough did you? Didn't fucking restrain yourself hard enough, or I wouldn't be reading this peice of vomit you call an article.
  • or kathatsung? Has your forum ever been invaded by this creep? I'm not even sure kathasung is a person, it might be a bot. But what it does is bombard you with hundreds or thousands of posts in serial order chronicling some massive US government conspiracy into practically everything.
  • In the ten or twelve years that I've been part of various on-line communities - going back to C64 BBS systems, then to the 'net when Mosaic was the cool new browser - I have had time to consider the causes underlying so much of the impolite behavior that we see in forums such as this.

    One can point to the psychological impact of the solitary nature of on-line communications (as do the researchers) but I have long suspected that there are subtle and not so subtle environmental determinants that lead to irr
  • the typical debate about pornography or violent videogames is: do they promote rape/ real-life violence? or lessen it? i am solidly in the camp that over-the-top media lessens real-world violence

    we are not born vessels of purity that are corrupted by society. go hang around any group of 3 year olds for 5 minutes. we are born feces slinging temper tantrums that are tamed by society. you cannot "catch" violent or asocial behavior, it is in all of us, innately, and we are socialized to express our negative sel
    • by LionMage (318500)

      i firmly believe this, and that online trolling and flaming is VALUABLE and important and should be appreciated for the social service it provides

      Somehow, this doesn't surprise anyone that you would say such a thing. :-)
  • People get grants to come up with this stuff?

    TWW

  • So why don't you all take a flying fsck at a rolling donut.

    All of you.

    Now.

    You're all stupid.

    You're wrong, and I'm smarter than you.

    Your imaginary girlfriends all like me better.

    NERDS.

    Oh, and your Mac sucks, too.

    Sigh...the things I have to do to avoid the temptation of using mod points on this thread. :)
  • This could get confusing... for this posting, how are we supposed to distinguish between true & bonified flamers and those who sarcastically flame this post for the sake of humor??
  • by steveoc (2661) on Monday November 19, 2007 @02:51PM (#21411573)
    When I was at uni (bach maths sci degree) .. i took a 1st year course in psychology, mainly because I was young and single, and there were no hot chicks in the other mainline science subjects that I was already enrolled in (physics, stats, astronomy, chem and maths)

    Whilst I was fascinated with the impossibly hard questions that my chosen fields of study were setting out to unravel and comprehend ... psychology was interesting in as much as it made use of a lot of statistical analysis as a form of proof. However, the questions that Psychology was attempting to answer were as lame as dishwater, especially compared to the great unanswered riddles that one finds in, say, physics or maths.

    And yet somehow, professional Psychology academics would manage to get substantial grants to go ahead and prove such theories as "If someone is smacked over the head every day for the next 5 years, then they are more likely to believe that they are going to get smacked over the head tomorrow - compared to someone who has never been smacked over the head at all". Such theories could be proven (at great expense mind you) using the most thorough and rigorous statistical analysis.

    Woop Dee do.

    I made a comment to the head of the Psych department that Psychology was nothing more than the vieled scientific study of the completely fucking obvious. My grades in this particular subject towards the end of that year reflect that fact as well. Some of the other students in my psych group who handed up almost verbatim copies of the same written work during the same period predictably fared better in their marks.

    OK then, so now we find that you can take a normal person off the street, give them anonymity and an audience - and viola - without the constraints of dealing with people face to face, with no embarrassment to deal with, they tend to get obnoxious. And this is news ? The big question is - how many months of study, and how much grant money was sucked up in proving this most valuable theory ?

    Its amazing that we ever managed to build the pyramids, discover mathematics, communicate wirelessly across the globe, understand the quantum states of the atom, put a man on the moon, or map out the human genome .. before this greater internet fucktard theory was ever proven.

    Where would we be without Psychology ?

    • by Kazrath (822492)
      No mods points currently or I woulda boosted you up.

      I partly think Psychology is needed due to the fact we have much less social interaction in modern society than in the past. Previously people actually communicated everything face to face and learned to read emotion and moods and could easily determine how a person would react to something as large an environmental change or as small as a verbal comment. Today a vast majority of communication is done remotely either over a phone or in some form of text
    • But sometimes people need to hear the obvious in a manner that suits them. I figure frequently this is what Psychology accomplishes. It's our collective filter and we use it to help verify and establish what it is we believe today. It's the structural Psychology that gets interesting. The beautiful machine.
  • 'Psychologically, we are "distant" from the person we're talking to and less focused on our own identity. As a result we're more prone to aggressive behavior' says one psychologist, who also cites research showing messages received by email are always perceived more negatively than on the phone.

    Or maybe you're just a JERK!

    -Grey [wellingtongrey.net]
    • by Dunbal (464142)
      Or maybe you're just a JERK!

            Why don't you just shut the fuck up and let the guy make his point, asshole? Ever since I saw you in your family tree, I've wanted to cut it down. :)
  • I find the easiest way to get Trolled or Flamed is to post a response that doesn't fit the Party Line in the geek community. Post something pro downloading of copyrighted material and you'll almost always get a positive mod. Post something that disagrees with downloading and/or points out the negative ramifications and you'll generally get modded down, and you'll usually get some vicious attacks from other posters, ones that should get Trolled or Flamed. There are a number of sacred subjects that you need t
  • One theory, but... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MWoody (222806) on Monday November 19, 2007 @03:07PM (#21411787)
    There's an even simpler explanation for why the Internet tends to be full of fucking idiots: kids. Young people, in real life, are generally ignored by adults who aren't specifically responsible for their care, and so most people don't realize that if you just listen to what they say, they're insufferable little pricks. But on the 'net, with anonymity added, these worthless little rugrats are suddenly on equal footing with adults. They go nuts with the power to insult people who would, in an actual meeting, ignore them entirely. And not knowing that they're arguing with a 12-year-old, the adults just think that the guy/gal on the other end is a total fuckwit, instead getting upset and unhappy as if they'd had an argument with another adult.

    Next time you're dealing with some Internet troll, don't get angry. Just bring to your minds' eye the truth: it's a junior highschooler angry at his lack of power in his own life and taking it out on the Internet community. It's a lot less frustrating when you see it as kids being kids.

    This, incidentally, is why I favor privacy, but not total anonymity. Either keep kids out of the online arena entirely or label them somehow; they bring down the maturity of the discussion as a whole.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by pragma_x (644215)
      I agree, but I personally extend the definition of "kids" to include fully-grown adults with the social and reasoning capabilities of the latter. Just talk to anyone who works retail; you don't need pimples to make an ass of yourself. I'd wager there's quite a few of those people get around online too. *sigh*

      FWIW, I have found that Slashdot is a wonderful haven away from most of these types as the story content is either too impenetrable for these types, or the commentary too insufferable. ;)

      To see what I
  • Has neither of these scientists ever driven a car? The most kind and friendly people can turn into real devils when they're in their cars. They'd never tell someone off in the streets but behind a wheel they'll scream, make obscene gestures and honk the horn like they were posessed.
    The same mechanism here I gather. You're too far away from me and there's no risk of retaliation, hence I can behave like an asshat just for fun and because you pissed me off.

    Oh, and for those who claim venting anger is good. Som [psychologytoday.com]
  • In 1997 there was a totally awesomeburger organization for the rudneness-offended called Netizens Against Rudeness in Cyberspace. It was founded by Elly Jordaan (http://www.asecular.com/musings/others/classicelly.htm) but seems to have fallen by the wayside. Here's a link to Elly talking about NARC: http://www.asecular.com/musings/others/elly/022097.htm [asecular.com]
  • by MrNonchalant (767683) on Monday November 19, 2007 @03:22PM (#21411971)
    These psychologists should just have read Penny Arcade [penny-arcade.com].
  • Or even 1984. People have been observing for some time that computer mediated communication has two negative traits:

    1. Depersonalizing. We lose sight of the fact that there's another person on the other end of the line. Then again, who cares? When you're looking for answers, worrying too much about whether someone else is offended by the truth is totally counterproductive.

    2. Lack of facial expression and gestures. This is the biggest for me. A message normally delivered with a wry friendly smile could be se
  • Oblig: http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/03/19 [penny-arcade.com]

    And he didn't even need a PHD.
  • Though this may be recent scientifically released info it is simply a rehash of what was analyzed 10-15 years ago. We all knew the issue was with identity and with distance. Again, this is just a rehash of what we knew long long ago and is not news.
  • I'll be honest: I absolutely cannot tell the difference between the posts that are modded "-1: Flamebait" and the ones modded "+5: Funny". Well done moderators! :) LOL!!!111 *

    * The researchers also found that putting smilies and "LOL" in a sarcastic post substantially reduced the chances of a "Flamebait" moderation...
  • Fists Work (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @01:59AM (#21417357) Journal
    I think the fear of being bopped in the nose keeps otherwise obnoxious people from being overly obnoxious in public. If the worse somebody can do is flame you back, you are more willing to be verbally aggressive online. It is similar to how people, usually teens, who shout something rude at strangers from a passing car wouldn't do the same if standing 5 feet away. The same "hit and run" principle happens on the net.

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