Trolls Will Be Trolls, Online and Offline, Reports New Study
If you’re a troll online, you are most likely also a troll offline, at least with respect to political discussions, reports new research published in the American Political Science Review. In their study, Aarhus University researchers Alexander Bor and Michael Bang Petersen investigate what they call the “mismatch hypothesis.” Do mismatches between human psychology, evolved to navigate life in small social groups, and novel features of online environments, such as anonymity, rapid text-based responses, combined with the absence of moderating face-to-face social cues, change behavior for the worse in impersonal online political discussions?
No, conclude the authors. “Instead, hostile political discussions are the result of status-driven individuals who are drawn to politics and are equally hostile both online and offline,” they report. However, they also find that online political discussions may tend to feel more hostile because the greater connectivity and permanence of various Internet discussion platforms make trolls much more visible online than offline.
Bor and Petersen arrive at these conclusions after conducting eight different surveys and experiments involving more than 8,000 participants in the U.S. and Denmark. Among other things, the researchers asked respondents in several studies if in the past 30 days they had posted or shared political content or comments online that had gotten flagged or deleted for violating the site’s guidelines, that they later regretted or felt ashamed of, or that could be taken as offensive or aggressive? In another study, they asked respondents if in text-based online political discussions in the past 30 days they had made fun of their political opponents, posted comments that others may find hurtful, or bullied others for their political views or actions. Respondents were also asked if they had made similar comments in face-to-face political discussions in the past 30 days.
The researchers then asked how often respondents talked about politics or public affairs face-to-face and on the Interne
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