It can be tempting to think that trolls thrive on the anonymity that the web often allows them to operate under. Indeed, a recent Brazilian project aimed to change this by naming and shaming online trolls on billboards in their neighborhood.
Far from this being a bad thing however, a recent paper argues that trolls are increasingly choosing to go public. The study, from researchers at the University of Zurich, found that non-anonymous trolls are increasingly becoming the norm.
They examined around 500,000 comments on over 1,500 political petitions posted on the German platform Open Petition over a three year period. The analysis revealed that many of those posting abusive messages on the site were doing so using their full name rather than a pseudonym.
Proud to troll
It’s a sad finding as many communities have attempted to improve the quality of discussions by forcing members to use their real name, with the belief that the veil of anonymity provides people with the courage to act badly online.
“The opinion prevails that anonymity disinhibits people from committing obviously deviant actions because they can dispense with their own responsibility and are protected from direct consequences,” the researchers say.
The researchers suggest that the removal of anonymity has a number of factors behind it. Certainly in political contexts, they contend that most trolls firmly believe what they’re saying, and what’s more, believe that they have a duty to say it. Under such circumstances therefore, there is little incentive to do so from behind a pseudonym. There is also a belief that despite being identifiable, there will be little comeback from their actions as they might believe their ‘minor’ indiscretions are too small to worry a large company or famous individual.
There is also a sense that by posting under a real name it enhances their credibility, and thus makes it easier to recruit fellow community members to their ’cause’. By showing that they are willing to take the risk and ‘out’ themselves, they gain trust and therefore boost their social status, thus potentially widening their reach.
Whilst the behaviors of trolls might be changing a bit, there are still things you can do to halt them in their tracks. Last year, for instance, a team of Stanford researchers developed an algorithm that could spot a potential troll almost as soon as they join the community.
The researchers analyzed the behavior of trolls on a variety of large online communities to help create an algorithm that they believe can identify one in as few as 10 posts.
The authors studied CNN, Breitbart and IGN, each of which has a huge list of members that have been banned over the years for various acts of anti-social behavior.
The data suggests that the difference between trolls and non-trolls is as stark as chalk and cheese, which made the creation of an algorithm to detect them quite straightforward.
So, if it’s easier to spot them, then it’s hopefully easier for community managers to deal with them, regardless of which name they operate under.