Banning Anonymous Comments Unlikely to End Internet Bullying

Hand of person on laptop at work deskRequiring Internet users to post comments under their real names won’t stop trolling and bullying, according to a University of Zurich study published in PLOS ONE.

A number of legislators have called for bans on online anonymity, citing concerns about threats and harassment. As of yet, no laws force Internet users to reveal their identity, and the United States Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that anonymous speech is a First Amendment right, though it has not addressed the issue of anonymous online speech.

A number of websites now require users to make an account, log in through a social media site, or provide contact information in order to post comments. Others have, in an attempt to reduce online harassment, removed comments altogether.

Internet Trolls Bully Even When Using Real Names

To assess the effects of anonymous Internet speech, researchers looked at more than 500,000 comments left by users on 1,612 online petitions posted between 2010-2013 on the German site OpenPetition. The site requires users to register and provide an address before signing a petition. Users who sign petitions can choose to post under their real names or to anonymously post using only their zip codes.

Findings of the study showed that, contradictory to what many believe about aggressive online behavior, people who posted by giving a name were no less likely to behave aggressively than those who posted anonymously. Further, in the context of online firestorms, they were often more aggressive than those who remained anonymous. Researchers acknowledged the possibility that aggressive commenters had used a pseudonym but used social norm theory to help illustrate why they believed these commenters had a higher motivation to be non-anonymous. Further, many so-called “Internet trolls” choose to use their real names in order to gain followers and more easily persuade others to their views, according to the University of Zurich study.

The study’s authors theorize that a number of factors may contribute to the willingness of Internet posters to post hateful speech, even under their own names. Some may be reacting to transgressions of moral norms by other people and feel morally obligated to speak out against those transgressions. Online bullies may also assume they will not be held accountable for their actions (reasonably so, as often they are not), particularly when many other posters are also posting hateful comments.

Internet Trolling and Mental Health

Internet trolling includes a range of behavior, from mocking legislators to systematically targeting and threatening private individuals.

According to 2010 research by the Cyberbullying Research Center, between 10.9% and 29.3% of middle-schoolers report experiencing bullying online. Cyberbullying can lead to low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety, among other concerns.

A number of high-profile suicides, particularly of teenagers, have been linked to online bullying campaigns. In May, GoodTherapy.org reported on a study that identified bullying as a key risk factor for child suicide, and research has shown that victims of cyberbullying were almost two times as likely to attempt suicide as those who were not victims of cyberbullying.

References:

  1. Anonymity. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.eff.org/issues/anonymity
  2. Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2010). Bullying, Cyberbullying, and Suicide. Archives of Suicide Research, 14(3), 206-221.
  3. Rost, K., Stahel, L., & Frey, B. S. (2016). Digital social norm enforcement: Online firestorms in social media. PLOS ONE, 11(6). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0155923
  4. Trolls often waive their anonymity online. (2016, July 25). ScienceDaily. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/07/160725090151.htm

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  • Sue E

    Sue E

    July 28th, 2016 at 10:44 AM

    People who are downright mean will be mean even if they can do it with their name attached to it or not. They are looking for some way to make themselves feel better and most of the time the only way that they know how to do this is to tear another person down. Truly I feel sorry for them because they are missing a piece of the human puzzle that I don’t think that they will eve learn how to achieve.

  • Gregory

    Gregory

    July 28th, 2016 at 1:40 PM

    Believe me, if someone wants to hurt you, then they will find a way

  • Georgia

    Georgia

    July 28th, 2016 at 4:33 PM

    Having real time site moderators could help in many cases. Just don’t let the hate filled content show up.

  • Marty

    Marty

    July 29th, 2016 at 10:18 AM

    I would like to know just what kind of sicko it is that takes some weird pleasure out of going online simply for the reason to hurt another person. I personally think that if you have a problem with someone then you talk to them about it face to face, don’t troll them online and make their lives as miserable as your so obviously is.

  • FD6

    FD6

    July 29th, 2016 at 5:35 PM

    Never going to stop pseudonymous speech. A better approach might be to teach snowflakes how to suck it up.

  • Judith

    Judith

    July 30th, 2016 at 4:17 PM

    The beauty of the internet- anything can be anonymous and no one has to be able to trace it back to you.

  • gretchen

    gretchen

    July 31st, 2016 at 12:20 PM

    Some people are determined to be mean and nasty.
    They will do it behind your back or to your face, they don’t care, they just want to tear someone down.
    Now there are those people who get off on you not knowing who this is coming from so they troll you.
    But the really mean ones? They will blindside you and do it to your face.

  • Edna

    Edna

    September 4th, 2016 at 5:48 PM

    Courts have ruled that online speech is the same form of speech, and is subject to the same rights on anonymity. This article made it seem like it was a debate whether the government considers online speech part of the 1st amednment; it does.
    It is really concerning that there are actually a substantial minorities of people who believe in systematic restriction of anonymous speech AND would like the government and public companies to assist.
    The first amendment was specifically put into place so that people may say stuff that would upset. No one would need to worry about their freedom of speech of all they ever wanted to say conformed to the standards the power structure that restricts such speech. Tyranny of the majority is a common theme throughout history AND remember that in common law once a precedent like restriction is set for some “special” type it can then keep being used for justifications in later court rulings.

    Any reasonably educated and critical thinking person should worry at any attempt to regulate speech short of blatant obscenity. Seriously it is frightening that there are Americans who consider video of anal sex (pornography) protected speech but simultaneously believe that anonymous rants and critiques of public figures and issues should not be.

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