Why Trolling is So Prevalent

By Deane Barker on January 5, 2012

How the internet created an age of rage: A good post that examines why comment threads are such a disaster these days. There are lots of reasons, but I maintain that this is 90% of it.

The psychologists call it “deindividuation”. It’s what happens when social norms are withdrawn because identities are concealed. The classic deindividuation experiment concerned American children at Halloween. Trick-or-treaters were invited to take sweets left in the hall of a house on a table on which there was also a sum of money. When children arrived singly, and not wearing masks, only 8% of them stole any of the money. When they were in larger groups, with their identities concealed by fancy dress, that number rose to 80%. The combination of a faceless crowd and personal anonymity provoked individuals into breaking rules that under “normal” circumstances they would not have considered.

I’ve long-maintained that the average comment threads on a mainstream news article make me sad to be alive.

(Worth nothing too – the atheism subreddit went beyond the pale recently with comments on a post by a 15-year-old girl.  I’ve been around the Net for a long time, but some of these are just unreal.  These are things these people would never (1) say to this girl in-person, or (2) say if their identities were known.  Deindividuation writ large.)



  1. While I’m no fan of forcing a Facebook log in to comment, I do understand the benefit. Our local paper – the Argus Leader – just switched from anonymous commenting to comments tied to Facebook, and so far it looks like the typical disregard for decorum has dropped. A little, at least.

    When you force a name, your comments go down. But the quality goes up.

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