Fake football website reveals what makes us become nasty trolls

May 8, 2017

By Sally Adee

The internet can be a vicious place. The way we can hide behind anonymity online has often been blamed for the web’s abundance of trolls, but an experiment using a fake football website shows it is the behaviour of those we encounter that has the most influence.

Until now, anonymity has been the prime suspect behind aggressive comments, Twitter mobs and targeted trolling. We know that offline, people are more likely to behave antisocially when they cannot be identified: a classic 1976 study found, for example, that masked trick-or-treaters stole more sweets.

Studies that have extended the theory online suggest that stripping us of our real-world names and dropping us into virtual communities gives us licence to unleash the inner animal.

But there’s conflicting evidence. Research in 2008 found that even when people comment under their real names on Facebook, they can say aggressive things. And another study found that abuse only dropped by 0.9 percentage points the year after South Korea introduced a 2007 law requiring users of the most popular websites to register with their national ID or a credit card.

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