October 19, 2017

Credit: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

Are you really proud of that blog post you just published? Most people will tell you that if you want that good feeling to last, don’t read the comments. It turns out anyone can be an online troll. Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil found that a good chunk of nasty posts come from people who don’t have a history of provocation. We talked to him to find out what makes a troll tick.

Three Takeaways 

  • Online trolling is more like a virus than anything else. If one person sees a nasty comment they’re more likely to post a nasty comment themselves. That behavior snowballs until the whole comment board or chat room is a complete mess.
  • A troll isn’t necessarily an aggressive person. They might be just a little cranky. Danescu said many jerky comments come on Mondays or later at night, when people are generally more tired and patience is low.
  • Danescu says that huge reason tempers flare online is because there are miscommunications. People who communicate by writing online miss out on fundamental cues like facial expression and tone. Those small signposts can make the difference between a civil conversation and a tense one.

More reading 

  • MIT Tech Review takes a deeper look at Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil’s study here.
  • Harvard’s Nieman Lab spoke to editors and online directors at several prominent media outlets that decided to shut down their comments sections.
  • NPR reports on a New York City baker who makes trolls eat their own words. Literally.

Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil, innovation hub, Culture, Kara Miller, WGBH, Sci & Tech, pri

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