Trolling, Bullying, and Flame Wars

13 April 2018

Are trolling, bullying, and flame wars an inevitable result of online communication? Does the anonymity and invisibility of cyberspace lead to toxic speech and behavior? How can we create more toxic-free environments online?

Without a doubt, the internet has revolutionized communications. It is an incredibly powerful tool that enables us to exchange ideas and information with people from all over the globe in an instant.

But it also seems to bring out the worst of people’s anti-social tendencies. Trolls were once fictional characters, nasty creatures living under fairytale bridges who only came out from their hiding places to harass those trying to pass over. Now trolls are real people in cyberspace who say things—often outrageous—just to get a reaction out of people. And they're all over the internet, not just in dark corners like 4chan. Look at the comments on mainstream sites, like Twitter or YouTube.

I mean, no! Don't look at the comments!! Never look at the comments!!!

也可以在网上进行精彩的讨论,每个人都礼貌地倾听并试图理解对方,即使他们在某些问题上意见不一致。当我们信仰不同时,我们可以共享文明规范。We can explore our disagreement with one another without makingad hominemattacks. We can try in good faith to reason with one another in the face of disagreement. And we can know when to let a disagreement go. This is all possible—but by no means guaranteed—in the cyberworld. It's much more likely in smaller networks of people who also interact with each other in the real world, not just online.

But when exchanges are between anonymous strangers他们在现实生活中永远不会见面或认识对方,这时候讨论往往会演变成挑衅、欺凌和谩骂。更糟糕的是,喷子和恶霸会很快被组织成暴徒,以他们不喜欢的观点为目标和骚扰对象(通常是女性)。《玩家门》便是一个典型的例子。

Mobs are nothing new in human history, of course. It should be no surprise that in the age of the internet we getonlinemobs, a virtual version of a real-life phenomenon. Instead of pitchforks and torches, their weapons are computers and smart phones. Like the mobs of yore, cyber mobs seek to threaten and intimidate.


Psychologists who study this kind of question have noted that people do and say things in cyberspace that they wouldn’t normally do and say in face-to-face interactions. This kind of behavior is so pervasive, they’ve given it a name—the online disinhibition effect.虽然我们一直都有暴徒,但我们从来没有这么简单有效的方法来组织他们,不受地理限制,不受他们对目标造成的真正伤害,逃避责任或惩罚。这极大地改变了人类的生存环境。

It's not just that the internet makes it easier for bullies to bully. That is certainly true. You could also say that the internet makes it easier for generous people to donate to charity. The internet is indeed a very versatile tool that can be used for good or bad, depending on whose hands it’s in. But that does not make it a neutral tool.

Sure, we could say, blame the bullies, not the tools they use for their bad behavior. But that’s a bit like saying guns don’t kill people, people do. Yes, people do kill people, but having guns easily available, especially assault style weapons, makes it so much easier for people to hurt or kill others that we now have an epidemic of gun violence in this country. It’s disingenuous to say that the tools of destruction and what they make possible don’t play a role.

社会心理学几十年的研究表明,环境和情境对人们的行为有很大的影响。把人们放在特定的社交场合,你会一次又一次地看到相同的结果。Take something likethe bystander effect.这时,如果周围有其他人,人们就不太可能帮助受害者。同样,当人们与从未面对面的匿名陌生人互动时,他们往往会表现出反社会的行为。能够在现实生活中不受任何影响地欺凌他人,激发了那些通常不会表现出这种行为的人身上的欺凌。There can be a major mismatch between theironlinebehavior and theirofflinebehavior. That’sthe online disinhibition effect

然而,将人们的不良行为归咎于“互联网”并不完全正确。这个目标太模糊了。It’s more accurate to blame particular platforms on the internet thatallowbullying, because there are sites, likeThe New York Times,在那里,恶霸和喷子是不受欢迎的。他们做了很多工作来审核评论,以保持讨论的公正性和有效性。当然,这既昂贵又耗时,这也是为什么越来越多的网站和平台不这么做的部分原因。但它表明,至少世界杯赛程2022赛程表欧洲区有可能在网上创造一种环境,让匿名的陌生人可以文明地提出不同意见,只要他们愿意这样做。

But don't get your hopes up yet! Bad behavior online is often good for profits, and we know that's the bottom line for most of these sites. Take a look atthis article from the Pew Research Centerthat summarizes a large-scale canvas of more than a thousand technology experts, scholars, corporate practitioners, and government leaders on whether they think that “public discourse online will become more or less shaped by bad actors, harassment, trolls, etc.” Overall, it presents a rather pessimistic forecast for online discourse.

So, how do we as consumers get platforms that do very little to curb bad behavior to change their guidelines, or, as is often the case,enforcetheir guidelines? Do we just stop using them or can we create change in some other way? And how should online spaces be redesigned so that there are real consequences for bad actors? How do we eliminate anti-social behavior to the extent that we can?

Tune in to this week's show with guest Michael Lynch, author ofThe Internet of Us: Knowing More and Understanding Less in the Age of Big Data, and share your thoughts with us here.


Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Saturday, April 14, 2018 -- 12:16 PM

Hi, Laura!

Hi, Laura!
你的前三个问题(粗体)是理解这些现象的关键。一个不合格的“是”涵盖了前两项。第三点是我们对言论自由、监管、禁制以及其他与人们行为不当有关的衍生概念。换句话说,没有好的行动方案,除了排除那些坚持发泄他们的脾气,并造成痛苦的其他人最小的蔑视(或感知轻蔑)。人们已经不像过去那样了。严肃的新世界对自己太过严肃,几乎没有完全平静的空间。在我们这个小小的蓝色星球上,整体的情绪气候支持一种不服气的心态,尽管许多人真的没有那么多可生气的事情。看来我们已经失去了人性中善良的天使。然而,我认为这只是更深层次问题的一个症状——其中许多问题都是大数据的结果,坦率地说,是太多的信息。朋友们告诉我他们在Facebook上的“朋友”。 They do not understand why I do not 'do Facebook'. It is simple really: Facebook and other social media venues are, in a real and final sense, asocial, or worse, anti-social. I haven't the time for such drama:

Wouldn't join in, even if I did have the time. It's just not worth it. My friends are those with whom I have personal contact and a few things in common. And people who have more between their ears than a lump of flesh, blood and bone.

Laura Maguire's picture

Laura Maguire

Sunday, April 15, 2018 -- 9:04 AM

Hi Harold! I think you are

Hi Harold! I think you are wise for avoiding Facebook. Don't get me wrong, I love Facebook.... in the same way that some people love cigarettes and coffee. But, like smoking cigarettes or drinking coffee, you'll be better off if you never start that particular habit!

Myperspectiveonly's picture


Tuesday, April 17, 2018 -- 1:55 PM

As an extension of today's

As an extension of today's discussion, I suggest that you consider the question of how the internet affects decision making about substantive issues. For example, I belong to a group which formerly made decisions by consensus. Now the same group of individuals--which is much larger and more geographically far flung than in the "old days"--needs to make decisions with significant economic and program implications. Although the group has formed a "representative" decision-making council, said council is relatively fragile as many individuals want to return to the consensus model despite the impracticability of the process in this instance. In arguing both the content of the issues and the process for making the decision, I have found, in reading the membership list serve, that many writers/readers do not understand what is being discussed or proposed either due to lack of or very different knowledge about the issue or the inability to communicate or understand more subtle elements of the communication (e.g., empathy, sarcasm, diplomatic correction of misinformation, etc.). This example, of a relatively small group of individuals with a shared language and history, trying, via email communication, to make important decisions by consensus surely has broader implications worth examining, don't you think?

Dr B's picture

Dr B

Tuesday, April 17, 2018 -- 11:39 PM

To a great extent, in the non

To a great extent, in the non cyber world, political correctness, all encompassing definitions of hate speech, no-platforming etc has completely curtailed disagreement of any kind. I often wonder whether the escalating abuse online is caused by the inability to disagree or make even the mildest of sarcastic comments in the local pub without being reported to the “thought police”. For example anyone who speaks out about ILLEGAL immigration here in the U.K. is immediately branded a racist which is leading to a pressure cooker type of environment with no outlet for views other than the anonymous internet?

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Tuesday, February 16, 2021 -- 6:41 PM

Certainly humility is

Certainly humility is possible everywhere and just as certain is growing more rare by the day. To achieve humility is to strive toward truth in the name of Habermas, in a world that supplies alternative facts.


If I am reading the science on this right it looks like the classical regions of the brain that map to language use, Wernicke’s Area and Broca’s Area are both double purposed to interoceptive control of the body. This is an indication that body budgeting, which is by far the more primal purpose of the brain can be greatly affected by words.

Here’s something else from science with bearing here… if you suffer from long term verbal abuse this actually warps your brain, reduces effectiveness of common vaccines, slows wound healing and in developing minds can lead to physical and mental illness.



In the spirit of this learning and show… I’m going to be much more mellow in my criticisms going forward. I doubt I shall ever throw shade as lightly as I have in the past. I am amazed at the complexity of the world, my persistent ignorance of that complexity and the immense power of words.

I am humbled.

cybersecuritylawsrc's picture


Friday, August 6, 2021 -- 12:14 PM

While bullying is nothing new

When the rude comments or bullying are online , when people are looking at social media at home or at work, it can be even worse because it is happening in a place where they should feel safe. It can happen when they are around people important to them such as their children.