Comment Trolls Suck and Now There’s Science to Prove It

“Never argue with a fool; onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.” — Mark Twain

There is no hell like the unseemly and raucous underbelly of the YouTube comments section. It only takes a moment in the hierarchical idiocracy to think the human race may forever be doomed. It is a place where idiots speak their mind and inflame the tempers of otherwise decent people. These people, who incite agressive and off-topic discussion, are in every comments section of every website on the Internet. We know that trolls are generically “bad,” but a recent study out of the University of Wisconsin proves the negative impact of trolls on reading, appreciating, and understanding a piece of journalism on the web.

The participants in the study were asked to ready an article outlining the risks and benefits of nanotechnology. Each person was exposed to the same text in the main article but varied responses in the comments section. Some of the comments included rude and antagonistic remarks such as “If you don’t see the benefits of nanotechnology, you’re an idiot.” (To be clear, this is a very tame example of an inflammatory comment but it produced results anyhow.)

The findings of the study showed what we all might have assumed. People who were exposed to emotional attacks doubled-down on their initial feelings. If a subject read the article and supported the benefits of nanotech, the troll comments made them feel even stronger about their position. People against felt more strongly against.

The psychological phenomena of motivated reasoning supports this finding. The human mind tends to react first with emotions and second with rational thought. The trolls incite an emotional response before reason, which causes people to be more defensive in their thinking and solidifies their current beliefs. This should make sense as one can assume shouting at people and calling them stupid seldom helps change their mind.

The defensive response cascades into the offended person writing back something slightly antagonizing which perpetuates a cycle of insanely offensive and unproductive blather. So, if you’re trying to make a point about something online, try to not end it with “ur hella gay.”


Mother Jones

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