Researchers have found that trolls not only make reading posts and articles less fun, the psychological backlash leads people to increase their sense of the negative implications in the writing, as well.
Dominique Brossard and Dietram Scheufele, This Story Stinks
We asked 1,183 participants to carefully read a news post on a fictitious blog, explaining the potential risks and benefits of a new technology product called nanosilver. These infinitesimal silver particles, tinier than 100-billionths of a meter in any dimension, have several potential benefits (like antibacterial properties) and risks (like water contamination), the online article reported.
Then we had participants read comments on the post, supposedly from other readers, and respond to questions regarding the content of the article itself.
Half of our sample was exposed to civil reader comments and the other half to rude ones — though the actual content, length and intensity of the comments, which varied from being supportive of the new technology to being wary of the risks, were consistent across both groups. The only difference was that the rude ones contained epithets or curse words, as in: “If you don’t see the benefits of using nanotechnology in these kinds of products, you’re an idiot” and “You’re stupid if you’re not thinking of the risks for the fish and other plants and animals in water tainted with silver.”
The results were both surprising and disturbing. Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.
In the civil group, those who initially did or did not support the technology — whom we identified with preliminary survey questions — continued to feel the same way after reading the comments. Those exposed to rude comments, however, ended up with a much more polarized understanding of the risks connected with the technology.
Simply including an ad hominem attack in a reader comment was enough to make study participants think the downside of the reported technology was greater than they’d previously thought.Simply including an ad hominem attack in a reader comment was enough to make study participants think the downside of the reported technology was greater than they’d previously thought.
While it’s hard to quantify the distortional effects of such online nastiness, it’s bound to be quite substantial, particularly — and perhaps ironically — in the area of science news.
An estimated 60 percent of the Americans seeking information about specific scientific matters say the Internet is their primary source of information — ranking it higher than any other news source.
Our emerging online media landscape has created a new public forum without the traditional social norms and self-regulation that typically govern our in-person exchanges — and that medium, increasingly, shapes both what we know and what we think we know.
Another great reason to move commentary from blogs to other venues, like Twitter.
I’m considering dropping comments from this blog altogether.
Martijn Linssen suggests that we take a look at the terms of service before signing up to a new service: in this case, he is thinking of Empire Avenue, the newest sizzling social game. He quotes the TOS there:
Here’s the crucial part of Empire Avenue’s TOS:
- For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, such as photos and videos (“IP content”), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your Privacy Settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with the Web Site (“IP License”). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content and/or your account unless your content has been shared with others and they have not deleted it.
By default, that means that everything you put on or through EA, is theirs - and theirs to sell to others. “Unless your content has been shared with others and they have not deleted it” - yeah right, how many lifetimes will it take to prove that?
Meanwhile, I had an interesting discussion with Tom Ohle of Empire Avenue in yesterday’s post about the service, in which he suggests that I might be misjudging EA since it isn’t really attempting to determine influence of its users, despite what others might be saying.
Also, I have been heckled by a bunch of Empire Avenue devotees in my earlier post, in which I suggest the hot new social game isn’t that interesting. Some suggest I should look into it a bit further before making a judgment, but others go further:
However, this is so much more than a game. It’s a way to get amazing metrics for different networks. It’s an opportunity to meet new people and use a fun, casual atmosphere to connect and make REAL friendships. So, some random, anonymous guy has now become pals with the amazing Shannon Morgan and so many other people with intelligence, wit, and care that is very difficult to find in one place.
Seems to me you’re really missing the point of the whole thing…either that or you’re simply spouting negative about something everyone else seems to be enjoying for the sake of gaining attention. Well played, Mr. Stowe Boyd! I would have never heard of you if not for the tripe you just posted.
This sounds like an ugly kid protesting a beauty pageant. You did your homework but you come off like the rhetorical jilted teen in your example.
Oh yes. I am simply writing about EA in less than glowing terms because I am looking to gain attention with my ‘tripe’, and because I feel like a jilted teenager. That’s me, alright, some nobody with an agenda.
Kent Newsome is waiting for an answer to a recent question:
[from Attention Convention]
I tend to favor Stowe’s argument [where I call a detractor “an enemy of the future”], but there is a little hole in it we need to plug. Stowe says to Dave “I agree with you about trolls. There are people out there who are the enemies of the future (as Virginia Postrel styled it in her book of the same name), and they need to be outed whenever possible.” I haven’t read that book, but my question to Stowe, and others, is this: what defines an “enemy of the future?” Stated another way, how do we distinguish a troll from someone who merely disagrees. A troll from a skeptic? And who gets to decide where those lines are drawn? Debate and competition are key forces in innovation and efficiency. I agree that there are those whose goal is not to debate and compete, but to condemn and destroy. But I think there is potential danger in how we tell them apart.
I lift a definition from Virginia Postrel’s website, Dynamist.com:
In The Future and its Enemies, Virginia Postrel explodes this myth, embarking on a bold exploration of how progress really occurs. In areas of endeavor ranging from fashion to fisheries, from movies to medicine, from contact lenses to computers, she shows how and why unplanned, open-ended trial and error - not conformity to one central vision - is the key to human betterment. Thus, the true enemies of humanity’s future are those who insist on prescribing outcomes in advance, circumventing the process of competition and experiment in favor of their own preconceptions and prejudices. [emphasis mine.]
Postrel argues that these conflicting views of progress, rather than the traditional left and right, increasingly define our political and cultural debate. On one side, she identifies a collection of strange bedfellows: Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader standing shoulder to shoulder against international trade; “right-wing” nativists and “left-wing” environmentalists opposing immigration; traditionalists and technocrats denouncing Wal-Mart, biotechnology, the Internet, and suburban “sprawl.” Some prefer a pre-industrial past, while others envision a bureaucratically engineered future, but all share a devotion to what she calls “stasis,” a controlled, uniform society that changes only with permission from some central authority.
On the other side is an emerging coalition in support of what Postrel calls “dynamism”: an open-ended society where creativity and enterprise, operating under predictable rules, generate progress in unpredictable ways. Dynamists are united not by a single political agenda but by an appreciation for such complex evolutionary processes as scientific inquiry, market competition, artistic development, and technological invention. Entrepreneurs and artists, scientists and legal theorists, cultural analysts and computer programmers, dynamists are, says Postrel, “the party of life.”
I maintain that the answer is that those that prescribe the future rather than letting it run. In this particular case, we need to see where this pesky web 2.0 stuff is going to lead us.
(Oh, by the way, Dave Rogers is still basting in the bile since I wrote Dave Rogers: A Bitter, Bitter Man and suggested he was an enemy of the future. And not because he called me a blowhard, but because of the line of rhetoric he was pursuing: “None of this VRM or Web 2.0 bullshit is important. It’s all crap.” I still disagree, and I believe that those advancing these arguments have to be countered.)
I find little to like in Andrew Keen’s elitist writings, but Kevin Marks (bless him) can find something worthwhile there, despite all:
[from Keening for Culture]
This kind of Oxbridge cleverness for its own sake is part of the Guardian/BBC Platonist culture that sees its role to lead the uneducated masses to better themselves, while sneering at their plebian interests. Keen continually calls Google “Orwellian”, while ignoring the emotional core of 1984, which is the tension between Winston’s day job at the (BBC-derived) Ministry of Information, controlling the party line, and his private diary, written “to the future or to the past, to a time when thought is free, when men are different for one another and do not live alone”. […]
So what did I like? I liked that he said the web was a mirror of ourselves, but I see him as a Caliban cursing his reflection, as I said five years ago:
- The web we see is a reflection of ourselves individually as well as collectively.
- With 2 billion pages and counting, we can never see it all, and when we venture outside the well trodden paths of the personal web we know, we are more likely to make mistakes in our maps, and come back with ‘here be dragons’ written across entire continents and tales of men with no heads.
- I think this effect, rather than malice or wilful misrepresentation is what is behind such things as journalists’ clueless articles on weblogs or congressman fulminating against the net consisting mostly of porn and piracy.
There is more, delivered in the wonderful Marks style. I find Kevin rewarding, perhaps in part because he is more than willing to employ Shakespearean references to make a point.
Meanwhile, I have found myself softening to trolls like Keen, Dvorak, and Carr. Perhaps because I believe that they increasingly don’t matter, and that the majority of people have no time for them: even the extremely literate and wired. Or perhaps, like Kevin, I have come to believe that the occasional insight or well-turned metaphor makes the rest , if not worthwhile, at least legitimized.