New study shows trolling makes you more stupid


by Sunny Hundal    
3:51 pm - January 10th 2013

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Everybody loves trolls. They come on to your blog, your video on YouTube or just on Twitter and offer you mindless insight and abuse. Gotta love them, eh? (or may not)

Although this blog doesn’t get too many of them, just see any any article on feminism or climate change on the Guardian website and you’ll know what I mean.

Trolling isn’t there to inform you or debate, it is there just as an outlet for someone’s frustration. It’s there for someone to feel smug while not adding anything to the wealth of human knowledge.

Now, two American Professors looked at how online news piece on science and their feedback mechanisms inform people’s views. Their paper was published in the journal Science.

The research by Brossard and Scheufele found that the internet may actually be narrowing public discourse because comments section (and other means to provide endorsement or feedback) “can color the opinions of readers of even the most neutral science stories”.

The paper didn’t just focus on comment sections and trolling.

They warn that news organisations that use popularity metrics to show articles could be limiting the visibility of important information. They offer the same warning to Google, which offers suggestions in search based on popularity.

One of the Professors told the University of Wiconsin-Madison news

Our analyses showed a self-reinforcing spiral, which means more people see a shrinking, more similar set of news and opinions on science and technology subjects when they do online searches

On the impact that online debate itself has on people’s intelligence, Mother Jones reports on the same study:

The researchers were trying to find out what effect exposure to such rudeness had on public perceptions of nanotech risks. They found that it wasn’t a good one. Rather, it polarized the audience: Those who already thought nano-risks were low tended to become more sure of themselves when exposed to name-calling; while those who though nano-risks are high were more likely to move in their own favored direction.

In other words, it appeared that pushing people’s emotional buttons, through derogatory comments, made them double down on their pre-existing beliefs.

Well, that didn’t come as a surprise.

Of course, the study isn’t just about online commenting but more broadly about online feedback tools, but it does offer a pretty good case for why science articles (at least) should not feature comments underneath. If only websites weren’t all chasing lots of hits…

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


Can’t tell if you’re trolling or not, Sunny :P Either way, hoped for better from you! The title of this piece is the most misleading thing I’ve read all day.

@imrankhan

Imran khan: that’s trolling. :p

3. Chaise Guevara

Where’s the part where it says that trolling makes you more stupid?

The thrust of this is unsurprising. Google lends itself to confirmation bias. Comment sections create echo chambers, convincing people that their unusual views match those of the “silent majority”. Being exposed to strong arguments in favour of views you oppose can often reinforce, rather than damage, your existing opinion.

through derogatory comments, made them double down on their pre-existing beliefs

I think that’s their charitable version of saying it makes people stupid.

Jeez, it’s a tabloidy headline guys. No need to get sniffy about it.

You can’t get much stupider than your typical tory troll. As this site has shown over and over again. Most of the tory trolls on here are already at full demented, knuckle dragging status as it is.

Fascinating how world wide your typical troll is male, inadequate, and Conservative. Says a lot about international conservative politics that it attracts such psychopaths.

And what does the study have to say about those who persist in confusing trolling with flaming? http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troll_(Internet)

As a longterm troll I dispute the definition of ‘troll’ used. As I practice it, trolling is supposed to make OTHER PEOPLE look stupid.

Actually, Sunny, how do you justify changing their findings from making two discrete points into one? they find (1) the internet may actually be narrowing public discourse and (2) the comments section (and other means to provide endorsement or feedback) “can color the opinions of readers of even the most neutral science stories”.

You, on the other hand, “repeat” this as “the internet may actually be narrowing public discourse BECAUSE comments section (and other means to provide endorsement or feedback) “can color the opinions of readers of even the most neutral science stories”.

Different points being made here and, interestingly, one of the common factors in misinterpretation of science news is the reporting of such news itself. Well done for providing them with another example!

Lordbadger,

I’m sure you THINK it makes others look stupid, but it best it just makes everyone more cynical.

Having said that, I wouldn’t consider provoking people of extreme and irrational views with satire & humour as trolling, but trolling as most people understand serves absolutely no purpose.

what a load of crap – moron

11. Man in the street

trolling makes you stupid?

says a man to a small group of pretentious, male, politics-obsessed, self-important muppets engaging daily in a pedants’ wankfest spouting entrenched opinions that never change and that no-one else cares about, from the front of their heads before leaning back from their keyboards thinking they’ve scored a point.

Enjoy your aids mofos.

Senorviva – because they say this themselves. They say that because of feedback tools, people are less informed and simply reinforce their prejudices.

I don’t see how the two are not related, and why one would not lead to the other. I read their views as saying one causes the other. Are the two entirely separate?

13. Chaise Guevara

@ Sunny

“through derogatory comments, made them double down on their pre-existing beliefs

I think that’s their charitable version of saying it makes people stupid.”

Sunny, read your own sources. It’s saying (in your terms) that trolling makes the target of trolling stupid, not the troll. But we’re not actually talking about stupidity, we’re talking about bullheadedness. If you’re nasty to someone about what they believe, they’ll believe it all the more strongly.

“Jeez, it’s a tabloidy headline guys. No need to get sniffy about it.”

It’s just that some of us think that research shouldn’t be radicially reinterpreted to suit whatever conclusion you want to hear.

Oh noes, les horreux! You don’t tend to find people so far up their own fundaments on right wing blogs.

15. Richard Carey

What I can’t stand is the idea of a search engine tailoring results to what it thinks I want to see.

I’ve been called a troll a few times, usually by feminists who’ve been shocked that I could dare to have an opinion opposite to theirs.
Been called an anti feminist troll for expressing the view that we shouldn’t ban lap dancing, lads mags and Ann Summers.
In my experience people on forums and blogs call you a troll if you don’t agree with their views.

17. Matt Wardman

a) Who’s going to tell Eoin that it doesn’t work?

He’s just issued *another* correction of *another* untrue attack on *another* MP.

b) I’m sure that chicken is the one that was on the gate at the 2010 Election hustings round here, when one of the candidates kept vanishing.

This article is full of aids

I think the use of ‘authoratative certainties’ by delegating truth in both political and scientific questions to elite ‘experts’ actually does more damage than silly name calling.

Take the climate. The use of scientists expressing a political view of the solutions to our problems conflates two things that interact but are seperate. The empirical evidence of a physical situation with a human/political response. It is as if one obviously flows from the other, when in fact it doesn’t. Therefore you get people throwing the word ‘denialism’ at anyone who objects to a political solution to environmental problems because the science and the politics are one.

Essentially the depoliticisation of debate and society at large is the cause for the narrowing of debate on the internet, not trolls.

“Oh noes, les horreux! You don’t tend to find people so far up their own fundaments on right wing blogs”

No, because they spend all their time trolling blogs like this one.


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