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  • Since youre watching SciShow, youre probably pretty familiar with the Internet

  • -- it’s full of information and awesome communities.

  • But, like any cool and kinda-magical place, it has its dark sides

  • Even its very own trolls.

  • Trolling is used to describe a lot of different situations. But, basically, it’s when someone

  • posts an off-topic or inflammatory comment to disrupt an online conversation.

  • Not all trolls are bad! Sometimes theyre just goofy, like our own dear litojonny and

  • his questions about butt hair. But others can be more harmful.

  • You mightve heard the warning, “don’t read the comments” -- to try and avoid potentially

  • aggressive online interactions.

  • But who are the people writing these kinds of comments in the first place, and why do

  • they do what they do?

  • What goes through the mind of a troll?

  • First, let’s talk about different kinds of trolling.

  • We think trolling began in the early 1990s, on discussion boards like Usenet- basically

  • early versions of message boards or forums.

  • Experienced users would go trolling for newbies, by asking overly naive questions, or by making

  • new posts about topics that had been way over-discussed.

  • Veterans on the site would recognize each other’s usernames and realize what was going

  • on, so only new users would fall for the trap and answer them.

  • This relatively harmless form of trolling was meant to get a laugh from people in-the-know

  • -- they were in it for the lulz.

  • Nowadays, the definition of trolling includes a lot of different kinds of people.

  • For example, some people who self-identify as trolls irritate others for the sake of a joke.

  • -- like so-called griefers in online gaming communities.

  • Like when someone gets onto your minecraft server and just puts TNT everywhere.

  • But griefers can also engage in more harmful behavior, going beyond playful rule-breaking

  • and slinging racial insults and threats to upset other players.

  • Some groups like Anonymous have grown out of communities that basically celebrate trolling,

  • like 4chan, and use its methods to oppose online censorship, or make political statements

  • through hacktivism, taking advantage of the anonymity of the Internet.

  • But, other kinds of trolling are essentially cyber-bullying -- like the trolls who descend

  • on the memorial pages for deceased teenagers to post harassing comments.

  • No matter the cause, it’s hard for victims to distinguish between empty threats and real

  • threats online, which can leave people stressed and scared.

  • So, some behavioral scientists are trying to get to the bottom of it.

  • The Internet is still a fairly new place, so psychologists are still figuring out how

  • online spaces affect our psyche and behaviors.

  • Some research has started to answer the big question: what makes a troll?

  • Back in 2004 -- before Twitter, before YouTube, before Reddit -- a scientist named John Suler

  • coined a term to describe the loosening of social inhibitions because of the anonymity

  • of the Internet: the Online Disinhibition Effect.

  • Basically, people are willing to behave differently online than in real life. This isn’t necessarily

  • a bad thing, but it can be.

  • Dr. Suler believed that there were six key factors that contributed to this effect:

  • First, dissociative anonymity describes the ability to hide your true identity online.

  • This gives people the sense that their online actions can’t be linked back to real life,

  • and can remove a sense of responsibility.

  • Next, because social media and online forums usually rely on text-based communication,

  • this also instills a sense of invisibility.

  • Without eye contact or body language, commenters can become more disinhibited.

  • Plus, online conversations can have a time disconnect, or asynchronicity, meaning that

  • you don’t have to immediately respond to someone.

  • You can disengage and re-engage whenever you want, and craft your responses more carefully

  • than in face-to-face conversation.

  • It can also be hard to see other Internet users as real people who are affected by the

  • things we say and do.

  • And one part of that is solipsistic introjection, which means you basically create a character

  • of the other person in your mind. By only having their words to read, you can sort of

  • hear their responses in an imagined voice in your head. So, the other person has become dehumanized.

  • As a result, there’s a disconnect between the real conversation youre having and

  • your constructed version of the other person.

  • This then can lead to dissociative imagination, where online interactions are seen more as

  • a fantasy than a reality. They can almost become a game -- one that’s easy to turn

  • off and walk away from.

  • This could be especially relevant to griefers -- theyre just people playing a different

  • kind of online game, one that’s more about a social experiment and messing with other players.

  • And when it comes to trolling, a big part is the minimization of authority -- the lack

  • of clearly defined authority figures online.

  • Viewing other users as peers makes it easier to say whatever you want, including toxic

  • comments, because there’s no fear of punishment.

  • Since the first description of the Online Disinhibition Effect, Internet communities

  • have grown, and so has our definition of trolling.

  • But the research on trolling behavior is still pretty sparse.

  • Most studies are completed through online surveys, so they rely on participants to self-report

  • what they do.

  • And, since there are lots of different kinds of trolls, the psychology behind the actions

  • and reactions that they cause can be varied.

  • What motivates someone to consistently comment about butt hair is almost definitely not the

  • same thing that motivates a troll to spam someone with death threats.

  • Some recent studies have focused on more aggressive kinds of trolls, and the presence of traits

  • associated with the so-called Dark Triad or Dark Tetrad.

  • And the name is... uhpretty fitting for this group of personality traits:

  • For example, one personality type is known as the Machiavellian -- which is predisposed

  • to being cold and detached in order to manipulate others.

  • Narcissism, on the other hand, indicates an inflated sense of self and lack of empathy toward other people.

  • You might also have heard of the term psychopathy. Psychologists refer to this more accurately

  • as antisocial personality disorder -- it results in an inability to feel empathy or guilt,

  • and a tendency to take advantage of other people.

  • And sadism describes the tendency to take pleasure from other’s pain.

  • ….which is some pretty dark stuff.

  • In 2014, in an online survey of over 400 people, those who said they enjoyed trolling other

  • people -- for example, by linking them to jump-scare websites, or griefing in games

  • -- had positive correlations with several of these personality traits.

  • And people who spent the most overall time posting comments online tended to have more anti-social motivations.

  • Rather than participating in message board conversations and online gaming to make friends,

  • they were in it for the trolling.

  • But also, only around 5% of survey respondents specifically said that they enjoyed trolling,

  • out of the 60% that said they interact with people online in some way, like by posting comments.

  • So this suggests that mean-spirited trolls only make up a small fraction of Internet

  • commenters, and an even smaller fraction of everyone online.

  • These results may sound pretty intuitive, but it’s still interesting that there’s

  • some correlation between some self-identified trolls and these personality traits.

  • Plus, it highlights how the Internet can provide an outlet for some individuals with these

  • social tendencies that are less acceptable to express in offline interactions.

  • Of course, this doesn’t mean that all self-identified trolls are sadistic or narcissists.

  • But it is causing more psychologists to ask interesting questions about the motivations

  • of people who troll.

  • Their research could help everyone understand online trolling a little better -- and, how

  • to deal with the harmful ones.

  • Many people think that toxic online interactions stem from a lack of meaningful social feedback,

  • to help people adjust their behavior.

  • After all, the Internet is still pretty new -- new enough that it’s not always clear what the social rules are.

  • And it’s really big -- so there are a lot of different kinds of communities where different

  • behaviors are acceptable, or not.

  • So how can we make more spaces on the Internet fun and more comfortable for communities,

  • and avoid the worst kinds of cyber-bullies and the more vicious trolls?

  • Many activists say that well-moderated communities tend to have more civil conversations.

  • This is linked to the concept used by some social scientists, known as the Broken Windows

  • Theory. This says that, for example, areas that have already been hit by vandals are

  • more likely to be targeted again.

  • In other words: where there’s already lots of mean-spirited trolling, similar trolls will congregate.

  • On the other hand, communities that already have and enforce civil conversations, will

  • discourage more harmful trolls.

  • But intense moderation may make free-speech activists cringe.

  • Some people argue that everyone has the right to express themselves however they want, even

  • if others find it offensive or upsetting.

  • So there are still lots of unanswered questions about the ethics of moderation and anonymity

  • in online environments.

  • But what we do understand about the psychology of trolling can help combat its more serious forms.

  • For example, if the anonymity of the Internet is part of what fuels aggressive trolls, then

  • one way to stop them is to un-do the Online Disinhibition Effect.

  • If a victim manages to humanize themselves, then it might become harder for a troll to

  • keep dissociating, and then they might realize theyre doing real harm.

  • Feminist activist and writer Lindy West was trolled repeatedly by a man who was imitating

  • her deceased father on Twitter.

  • She wrote a poignant piece about the experience. And to her surprise, the man behind the Twitter

  • account reached out to directly apologize.

  • In further conversation, he said that after he read her writing about the experience,

  • he was actually able to recognize that she was a real, living human being who was receiving

  • his insults and cruelty.

  • So it’s pretty clear that there are a lot of different flavors of trolling, and the

  • mechanisms behind it can vary, too.

  • Some of it’s pretty harmless, derailing conversations to get a laugh or mess with

  • other players in a game. But some of it can turn into bullying and have serious consequences.

  • Psychologists are trying to understand where this behavior comes from, and how these interactions affect our minds.

  • Hopefully in the future, well reach an equilibrium where people on the Internet can

  • feel free to express themselves anonymously without hurting others.

  • And in the meantime, just remember: don’t feed the trolls.

  • Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow, which was brought to you by our patrons on

  • Patreon. If you want to help support this show, just go to patreon.com/scishow. And

  • don’t forget to go to youtube.com/scishow and subscribe!

Since youre watching SciShow, youre probably pretty familiar with the Internet

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The Psychology of Trolling

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    羅紹桀 posted on 2016/07/27
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