You know that guy defending genocide in the comments section of some perfectly innocent cat video?
Well, a new study suggests he’s just cranky.
Hoping to determine why people harass or abuse others online, researchers from Stanford University and Cornell University asked 650 individuals to complete tests that were either incredibly difficult or very easy. Afterward, participants were asked to fill out a detailed questionnaire about their mood.
Participants then read the same news article and were tasked with engaging in the comments section. Different participants were exposed to different comments sections, with varying levels of more neutral or provocative viewpoints. Experts then analyzed the participants’ comments to see if they could be considered “trolling”, such as personal attacks, name-calling or swearing.
Only 35 percent of participants who got the easy test and saw a neutral comments section went on to troll. That figure jumped to 50 percent for those had the hard test or were exposed to trolling comments, and skyrocketed to 68 percent for those who both endured a tough test and were exposed to negative comments.
A second phase of the study analyzed a dataset of 1,158,947 users and 26,552,104 posts on CNN’s comment section in 2012. Researchers found that people whose comments had been “down-voted” tended to down-vote other commenters more frequently.
“It’s a spiral of negativity,” said lead author Jure Leskovec.
“Just one person waking up cranky can create a spark and, because of discussion context and voting, these sparks can spiral out into cascades of bad behavior. Bad conversations lead to bad conversations. People who get down-voted come back more, comment more and comment even worse.”
The researchers hope these findings will prove valuable to social media platforms looking to improve their discussion spaces.