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The Internet Communications Science Technology

Why Trolls Win With Toxic Comments 298

Hugh Pickens writes "The Web is a place for unlimited exchange of ideas. But according to an NPR report, researchers have found that rude comments on articles can change the way we interpret the news. 'It's a little bit like the Wild West. The trolls are winning,' says Dominique Brossard, co-author of the study on the so-called 'Nasty Effect.' Researchers worked with a science writer to construct a balanced news story on the pros and cons of nanotechnology, a topic chosen so that readers would have to make sense of a complicated issue with low familiarity. They then asked 1,183 subjects to review the blog post from a Canadian newspaper that discussed the water contamination risks of nanosilver particles and the antibacterial benefits. Half saw the story with polite comments, and the other half saw rude comments, like: 'If you don't see the benefits of using nanotechnology in these products, you're an idiot.' People that were exposed to the polite comments didn't change their views really about the issue covering the story, while the people that did see the rude comments became polarized — they became more against the technology that was covered in the story. Brossard says we need to have an anchor to make sense of complicated issues. 'And it seems that rudeness and incivility is used as a mental shortcut to make sense of those complicated issues.' Brossard says there's no quick fix for this issue (PDF), and while she thinks it's important to foster conversation through comments sections, every media organization has to figure out where to draw the line when comments get out of control. 'It's possible that the social norms in this brave new domain will change once more — with users shunning meanspirited attacks from posters hiding behind pseudonyms and cultivating civil debate instead,' writes Brossard. 'Until then, beware the nasty effect.'"
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Why Trolls Win With Toxic Comments

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  • One bad apple... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 16, 2013 @12:46PM (#43191291)

    I don't know if anyone felt like this, but I remember in middle school being with a group of kids and as soon as someone said something nasty/ negative about an individual, everyone felt they had to agree and chime in. Whenever it was something positive, the responses were mostly neutral.

    Now as a 30-something, I sense this "negative groupthink" with the younger coworkers, but with my peers we have disagreeing opinions. I know at least when I debate I try to see it from all angles, whereas people younger (and much older) than me seem to only have one point of view, and only theirs is the correct one. Or, it's easier to follow than to create your own set of opinions and facts to support it.

  • by Beetle B. ( 516615 ) <`beetle_b' `at' `'> on Saturday March 16, 2013 @12:53PM (#43191347)

    I've never come across a news site that allowed "open" comments not become dominated by their inaneness.

    Why do news sites allow them? I suppose there may be a connection between allowing them and traffic (I really don't know) - but I see highly serious, respectable local news outlets that already have a strong base suddenly decide "Hey, everyone's doing it, why not us?"

    In ye old days we had "Letters to the Editor". Open comments are not a viable replacement. The former were heavily moderated.

  • by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Saturday March 16, 2013 @01:02PM (#43191435)

    Pretty much, most people are of the hurd mentality and if you go against the hurd, then you wind up being burnt at the stake or shunned.

    The elderly end up trapped in their own experience in many cases because they, wrongly, believe that they have seen everything and that this case is exactly like the one they've seen previously. Which might be true in many cases, but if it isn't true, their mental rigidity will prevent them from ever seeing the truth no matter how obvious it is to an outsider.

    Experience is a good thing if what you're doing is like the things you've had experience with, it gets the job done faster, but if there's any novelty to it, you run the risk of doing it wrong.

  • by achbed ( 97139 ) <> on Saturday March 16, 2013 @01:07PM (#43191483) Homepage Journal

    Why do you think politicians use nasty vile language to trash their opponents? It delivers both (a) the message that they are better, and (b) reinforces that with a visceral reaction from their audience. The problem become when they then have to sit down and work out a solution to a problem - the previous reaction of the audience makes their compromise seem unacceptable. So what we have in a two-party system is a race to abandon the middle. Anyone trying to reduce the level of nastiness is attacked by their opponent as weak and unprincipled, and therefore is voted out of office, leading to a more and more splintered society.

  • Alinsky's Rule #5 (Score:2, Insightful)

    by phrackthat ( 2602661 ) on Saturday March 16, 2013 @01:11PM (#43191517)
    RULE 5: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.”

    There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions.

  • by jklovanc ( 1603149 ) on Saturday March 16, 2013 @01:28PM (#43191579)

    In ye old days there was a specific amount of space available for letters to the editor; usually about half a page. They had two main issues; very few people could be heard, the comments and the article were disconnected (the article and letter could be printed days apart). With web pages there is plenty of space and immediacy.

    I believe in moderating posts but it needs to be done by people with integrity. I have seen too many posts moderated troll, off topic, overrated, etc when the moderator really meant "I don't agree".

    I think comments are a counter to today's move away from reporting and toward commentary. We used to get facts. Now, more often than not, we get slanted commentary and are told how to think. Comments allow people to bring forward alternate viewpoints.

  • Rude != Troll (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GNUALMAFUERTE ( 697061 ) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <etreufamla>> on Saturday March 16, 2013 @01:33PM (#43191619)

    Big mistake. The idea that any rude comment or any comment that you disagree with is a troll. Any clear view on a subject, any unpopular opinion is a troll.

    I've been marked as a troll, for example, for my ideas regarding religion (I understand that religion is detrimental for modern humans, that teaching religion to children is a form of abuse, and therefore indoctrinating anyone under 18 should be illegal).

    Truth is, regardless of what you think about my idea (please don't turn this into a religious discussion, I only used it as an example), that doesn't mean I'm trolling, it only means I have a radically different idea, and that yours and mine are incompatible, it doesn't mean I'm intentionally trying to upset you. If you are so sensitive, the problem lies with you, not with my comment.

    Also, the idea that anything rude must be a troll. Rude comments win (if the underlying idea has any basis) because rude shows conviction, certainty. If I say "nanotechnology is a good idea, you should be more open-minded", I sound weak. If I say "Fuck this anti-science bullshit. We need to get rid of fear of technology, anyone that doesn't understand the benefits of nanotechnology after reading this article is a backwards idiot that has no place in modern society", I'm essentially saying the same fucking thing, but with different wording. This PC society we live in tells us we need to be nice to everybody. That is simply not truth, if you understand that something is simply wrong, and you are certain of your ideas, grow some fucking balls and express them in a way that is actually effective.

  • Re:F U (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 16, 2013 @01:35PM (#43191635)

    I think you are confused. The intelligence level of 1980s and early 1990s (prior to the Eternal September []) Usenet posters was very high. The intelligence of the average Internet poster is close to the population average. But those very intelligent Usenet posters didn't simply disappear--they were too smart for that. They formed new communities with restrictive memberships. I'd tell you where you are, but it is obvious that there was a reason you weren't invited to join them. Let's just say that the migration away from Usenet provided an opportunity to separate the wheat from the chaff.

  • by Jeremiah Cornelius ( 137 ) on Saturday March 16, 2013 @01:47PM (#43191679) Homepage Journal

    And the WELL stinks.

    Circular fantasies about post-economic info-tech utopia.

    You people were the usefull idiots who forged the tools for perpetual, universal surveillance and drone warfare.

  • Re:F U (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <> on Saturday March 16, 2013 @02:04PM (#43191787) Journal

    USENET? Hell Slashdot used to have some truly epic fucking trolls and sadly the guys back then could tell the difference between someone arguing a position and trolling. All the posts worth reading were UID holders , ACs were for Goatse and nigger jokes. Back then a troll was one of the "bastshit brigade" like old Twitter, you took the fact he made a knockoff of your UID as a badge of honor, he had either Hairyfeets or Hairytoes for me, but anybody who had a halfway known UID got the Twitter knockoff, Macthorpe, Crosshair, all got a knockoff.

    I'll probably get hate for saying it but fuck it, its the truth, Slashdot has REALLY gone downhill since they sold it. We used to have epic threads about subjects like file systems and dark matter and you would often get experts in the field to debate with. Hell I've have argued about different OS designs with some of the guys that were building the bloody things and even when you got schooled you frankly learned something. Now its all "U no agree with me? U are teh sekret ninja shill!" and fucking ACs, it feels like Digg or Reddit anymore. No wonder more and more of the old guys have walked away, if I find me another site that actually talks geek tech and has a decent community I'll be happy to join them as its just not as good as it was, and that isn't some rose colored glasses, that is just looking at the threads. Now its all fanboi circle jerks whereas before we'd have threads over a 100 posts long arguing about the details.of the topics. Now its all just wank.

  • by fa2k ( 881632 ) <pmbjornstad@g[ ] ['mai' in gap]> on Saturday March 16, 2013 @02:35PM (#43191985)

    It's a brilliant, almost tit for tat response to actual trolls who do it just to spread evil and waste other people's time. It is pretty devastating if it's used for other commenters, who maybe just have a provocative writing style or unpopular views. I hope it's being used with great caution

  • by xstonedogx ( 814876 ) <> on Saturday March 16, 2013 @02:54PM (#43192121)

    The most important phrase I ever learned to say is, "I don't know."

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Saturday March 16, 2013 @03:01PM (#43192167) Journal
    I don't know what the title means by the word "win". What do the trolls win? Polite discussions inform the readers somewhat, and rude discussions polarize, almost equally it looks like from the cursory reading. So the trolls make as many enemies as they make friends. So what are they winning?

    In some certain circumstances enemies don't cost you anything and friends get you some small benefit

    One example would be a deep Red (or Blue) district politician who acts like trolls and makes as many enemies as friends. But his friends are in his/her district enemies are outside, so he does not care.

    Or even an obnoxious car salesman advertising in radio "Costoria Buick! Owner Ed has gone mad! He is stackin' 'em deep, selling 'em cheap"!. Yeah, that guy is irritating, but you might still remember the name of the dealership, and the irritated millions do not bother him. The few sales leads that he does get is enough for Ed Costoria.

    So I don't see the internet trolls as winners, but the sites hosting them as losers.

  • Conflation (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) on Saturday March 16, 2013 @03:04PM (#43192177) Homepage Journal

    Pseudonyms and rude behavior are separable issues, and should be treated as such. Rude behavior can be addressed with moderation (and should be.)

    Pseudonyms are important for a number of reasons, including protection from stalkers, rouge governments (but I repeat myself), troll shadowing, bullying, ex-(wives|husbands|jackbooted thugs|etc), revolutionary ideas that step on other people's turf, or could, critical political commentary, and, oh yes, privacy, should one desire that.

    The fact that pseudonyms are the first layer for many trolls is irrelevant if moderation is adequate. And that, in turn, can be addressed in many ways. Slashdot, for instance, reduces visibility of trolls by rare (unfortunately) moderation. Other sites let the users detect and suppress the trolls; that kills trolls faster, but it also kills contrary ideas and that's not good.

    So it seems to me that the most important thing here is to get moderation up to the highest possible standard. When you run a site, after all, it's your barbecue... you should get right in there and see that the level of discourse you want is maintained. If you don't, it's your fault. Don't blame the pseudonymous folks for your failings.

  • How dumb (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 16, 2013 @05:38PM (#43193065)

    What a dumb article how exactly are they winning? Oh by making you write this dumb article about them. What next? An article by you talking about how the "welfare queens" are winning by taking government handouts. Sorry but much like the trolls, if your a black welfare queen you ain't winning.

If you suspect a man, don't employ him.