By Rose Eveleth
Posting in Cities
Science is trying to explain why people seem to be so angry all the time online.
One of the first things you learn as a writer online is to not take comments too seriously. You're guaranteed to be called all sorts of names, by people who often clearly didn't even read the thing they're commenting on (you know who you are). But why are people so nasty online? Would they be just as rude to me in person?
Scientific American says that the key is eye contact. Researchers asked students to debate an issue over Instant Messenger from different rooms. In one group, they simply saw text. In another, they used video cameras to see their partner. And in a third group they were asked to maintain eye contact with their partner. Here's what happened:
Far more than anonymity or invisibility, whether or not the subjects had to look into their partner's eyes predicted how mean they were. When their eyes were hidden, participants were twice as likely to be hostile. Even if the subjects were both unrecognizable (with only their eyes on screen) and anonymous, they rarely made threats if they maintained eye contact.
But other people have posited different theories about the meanies on the web. At io9 they suspect that trolls on the web are probably trolls in real life too, minus the hair I guess.
The fact is, you can meet internet trolls in real life, and they will be just as trollish in person as they are on the internet. It's just that, when someone starts screaming at you on the street about their crazy conspiracy theories, you can walk away. Also, most of us who are over the age of 21 don't make a point of hunting down random 14-year-olds and asking them what they think about stuff — unless we're related to them, in which case it's a self-selecting group. Most of us who live in city centers also probably don't venture out to suburban malls and ask people what they think about politics or cultural issues, or vice versa.
Many sites have disabled comments either permanently or for a short period of time. Endgaget wrote:
What is normally a charged -- but fun -- environment for our users and editors has become mean, ugly, pointless, and frankly threatening in some situations... and that's just not acceptable. Some of you out there in the world of anonymous grandstanding have gotten the impression that you run the place, but that's simply not the case.
And at On The Media, they spoke with Ira Glass, the host of This American Life, about why he disabled comments on their website.
The idea that comments are going to enhance our experience of the internet runs deep. The Guardian writes:
The assumption has long been that getting more people online is going to be a universal good – rather like getting more people into work. Once everyone is connected to the internet, we'll all be lovely, shiny and happy, helping each other with homework (except when we shouldn't, when we'll blithely laugh and say "oh no, you have to work that out yourself!"). Not angry, snarky, blinkered and impotent, like some seem to be.
And yet more and more websites are struggling with comments that devolve into sexism, racism, nonsense or political bickering that has nothing to do with the post or story they're now attached to.
So while you might comment on this post telling me how awful I am, maybe you wouldn't do it if you had to look me in the eye while you said it. Or maybe you would. Would you? Take to the comments to let me know.
Via: Scientific American
Image: David Boyle
Sep 16, 2012
People can be frustrated and angry over a variety of things. Demonstrating this in person can cause immediate and long-term negative implications. Not so much so on the Internet. You can insult and demean someone online without much worry about recourse. Try doing that with a next-door neighbor, family member, or in-law, and let me know how that works out for you.
There is no difference between my responses in either. I have zero tolerance for ignorance, bigotry, hate speech, dogmatism, and many other such activities that are prevalent, especially with this year being a Presidential Election year. Every discussion I see devolves into political name-calling that gets no one anywhere at all. I'm an incredibly abrasive person in real life (I even post this quite bluntly in my introduction to every online college course I take so there are no surprises) and this filters through on the internet as well. I say nothing online that I am afraid to say in person. In fact, I might say MORE in person than I do online simply because of the risks involved since the NDAA was signed. I'm certainly not hiding behind anonymity; I use my real name when I sign posts online and on my Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail accounts. Why should I hide who I am just because I can't see you? Come find me; I'd love to chat face-to-face, especially if you're a hateful, dogmatic bigot. Can't say my neighbors would be quite so welcoming, though... -Jason
On SmartPlanet, the person with the thickest skin, by far, is Chris Nelder. Everyone else seems to be rather thin-skinned for the profession. Nelder gets the most comments, with some very deep and responsive ones and of course lots of ad hominem attacks based on political bias -- you can't help but get both (good and bad comments) with the sort of topics Nelder tackles. I once criticized one of Tuan's articles based on the amount of grammatical errors -- hey, if you're in the business of WRITING, right? -- only to get attacked. Architecture school was far more brutal than anything you see online -- there, people looked into your eyes and criticized you and your work. If you can't take the heat, the don't.
folks are so angry everywhere these days, daily stresses that should just be ignored are overwhelming people and the anonimity of the internet allows them to de-stress, mostly innapropriately.
In ANY discussion, the major portion is probably devoted to disagreement...why discuss what you agree upon? Beyond that, while comments are easy (compared with say smail) they still require effort, and that usually means that only things which people are passionate about get comments. Finally, we often waste lots of time argueing when we actually AGREE with each other--mostly because we fail to establish what the basepoints are, and once people get passionate, it is very ard to get them to actually listen or think about anything at all...their minds get made up, and they are unwilling to change (which probably has something to do with the hormones released under those conditions...if you're running from danger, it does little good to change your mind about what to do constantly (watch a squirrel in traffic.)
It's extremely rare to see a level-headed exchange of meaningful comments on almost any site. Intellectual paragons such as the New York Times and the New Yorker draw trolls, too, or have so many comments that it would be fruitless to even scan them. Even with the curation of participants and moderators, a lot of flotsam and jetsam bubble to the top and, with often double and triple digit numbers of comments, I would imagine most people give up and don't participate. I think it would be useful to turn off comments on many sites (e.g. no one really needs another opinion about the new iPhone); and on others moderators should be relentless about culling trolls. I could envision an automated system that some day would zap all troll comments, and summarize the best comments in a few paragraphs.
One of my cars is a convertible. And when you drive a convertible, people can easily see your face, and your eyes. You are far less anonymous than you are when you are fully ensconced behind steel and glass in a traditional auto. One of the most interesting sociological aspects I discovered early on is that people are far more friendly and generous when I drive the convertible. They are far more likely to let me merge than when I am driving my truck. And they are far less likely to try to accelerate or otherwise block me than when I am in other vehicles. Eye contact just breaks down anonymity.
Eye contact is just one of many possible controls. When there are no consequences at all to antisocial behavior on the web --not even having a comment rejected or deleted-- unless you use some keyword that homeland security is looking for, people who feel impotent, angry, unrecognized, and so on can trash other people and feel empowered. For them, one way to "win" a discussion is to trump with personal attacks full of curse words. Even when the subject is just an old music video on youtube, the exchange (and the page) becomes not fit for minors, for no reason. Lack of maturity may be a factor, but I'd say there are just a lot of (probably male) people who fell impotent, angry, etc., and find comments to be a fine way to tell the world to f* off. And if you don't agree with me, you (*#$ @#*, you can just @(**%& in your *++()).
"And yet more and more websites are struggling with comments that devolve into sexism, racism, nonsense or political bickering that has nothing to do with the post or story theyâre now attached to."