Comment Trolling Has A Psychological Explanation

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troll1.jpgComments trolls are the bane of most sites; where as the vast majority of people may never comment on a post (as is certainly the case with TechCrunch) those that do usually fall into one of three categories.

Legitimate commenters, who have something thoughtful to say and/ or add to the conversation (for and against), link spammers who comment on the off chance they might get some traffic as a consequence of their comment (sometimes these fall into the first category..hard to tell) and trolls, who make it their business to criticize anything written and the people who wrote it, in some sort of sad attempt at self validation by being nasty towards others for the sake of it. Like taking drugs, trolling is a poor mistress that demands more and more to feed the self satisfying addiction that props up their self esteem.

New Scientist has a psychological explanation for poor behavior online. Whilst the post talks mainly about email, NewScientist draws the relationship between this and comment trolls. You can read the whole post here, but here are some highlights:

Social psychologists have known for decades that, if we reduce our sense of our own identity – a process called deindividuation – we are less likely to stick to social norms…the same thing happens with online communication such as email. 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, he says.

Another factor influencing online communication, according to Epley, is simply the risk of miscommunication involved with text-based messages, which are inherently more ambiguous. At the same time, he notes, email “has the feel of informality – we just fire something off”, even though we probably ought to treat it with the same care as a written letter. And, as most people probably know, this can cause problems for both the sender and the receiver.

I’ll leave the final word to New Scientist’s Michael Marshall:

I’m not sure what we can do to minimize 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.

image credit: Wikimedia commons

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