Strategy for denier commentors

November 16, 2009

in Geek stuff, Internet matters, Politics, Science, The environment, Writing

Man with power saw

I am happy to say that traffic to this site has been steadily increasing. Visits are up 138% from last year, and October was our best month ever. Increasingly, a sibilant intake of breath is well ranked by search engines.

One problematic element that accompanies popularity is that I attract ever-more climate change deniers and delayers (those who accept that it is real, but think we should take no action). Ordinarily, I am happy to debate with people and try to provide quality information. That being said, it can take up a lot of time to try to refute those who repeat faulty arguments over and over. These people call themselves ‘skeptics,’ but I think they are mis-applying the term. I have yet to encounter one that is willing to back away from even thoroughly discredited positions. Instead, they just move on to another misleading argument.

The question, then, is how to deal with these commentors without losing all scope for socializing and personal projects. Some of the options:

  1. Briefly assert that their position is incorrect and point to a resource that says why. Ignore further attempts at rebuttal.
  2. Point all such commentors towards pre-existing posts and conversations, without offering specific responses.
  3. Adopt the Zero Carbon Canada approach: “ATTN climate change denier trolls: you are cooking our kids and will be deleted.”
  4. Continue to provide detailed, personalized responses as much as possible.

(1) and (2) are appealing because they reduce the extent to which one person seeking to spread disinformation can waste my time. That said, leaving comments unaddressed could lead readers to believe that the points made therein are valid. (3) is appealing because it would prevent bad information from appearing online, though it is obviously a form of censorship. (4) is the ideal world solution, though I do need to wonder whether refuting deniers and delayers in blog comments is really the best use of my time, even if all I am taking into consideration is whether I am acting effectively on climate change.

Which option do readers think is most suitable? Are there other options I ought to consider?

Report a typo or inaccuracy

{ 51 comments… read them below or add one }

. November 16, 2009 at 11:00 am

Major climate change issues >> Deniers and delayers

Milan November 16, 2009 at 11:09 am

The infamous Frank Luntz memo lays out the denier strategy:

“The scientific debate is closing [against us] but not yet closed. There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science… Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly… Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.”

It is saddening and frustrating that this campaign has been so effective, thus far.

Rob November 16, 2009 at 2:00 pm

In the ideal world where it was worth responding to trolls in general and climate change deniers in particular other than with ridicule, there would be no problem of climate change, since we would have limitless resources and endless time to deal with everything. If you can’t find something better to do than respond to trolls, something is wrong. Trolls deserve to be treated with the respect they show others, which, in discourse terms, is basically none. Hence I would adopt strategy 3; they’ve no right to appear on your website.

R.K. November 16, 2009 at 2:19 pm

Any option other than (4) will just feed the paranoia of climate change deniers, reinforcing the notion that they are a persecuted minority.

Anon November 16, 2009 at 2:41 pm

One other alternative is to mark denier comments as spam. If you are using a system like Akismet, doing so will increase the chances of them being marked as spam automatically on other sites.

Sarah November 16, 2009 at 7:48 pm

I’d suggest a combination of 1 & 3, so that you provide an initial attempt to rebut and/or link to sources which provide an explanation, but warn people that persistently posting misleading or factually inaccurate claims will be regarded as trolling and therefore deleted.

Gail November 16, 2009 at 8:13 pm

You probably already know this, but greenfyre seems to have struck a reasonable balance:

http://greenfyre.wordpress.com/ if you check his comment policy.

And congrats on getting the notice!

mek November 16, 2009 at 9:15 pm

I must strongly recommend against #4. The entire strategy of denial is to force irrational and discredited arguments to be acknowledged and refuted by rational actors, therefore creating the perception of a rational debate. That kind of acknowledgement is all they want – do not give it to them. #1 is the best for the genuinely ignorant, while #3 should be reserved for repeat offenders.

. November 16, 2009 at 9:25 pm

Greenfyre’s >> Denier vs Skeptic

. November 16, 2009 at 9:31 pm

How to be a real sceptic

Can someone be productively sceptical? Of course. Firstly, one needs to be aware that scepticism about whether a particular point has been made convincingly is not the same as assuming that the converse must therefore true. Sometimes scientists just don’t use the best arguments they could (particularly if they are a little out of their field of expertise) and these points can, and should, be challenged. One example would be the use of an incorrect ‘correlation implies causation’ argument. For instance, the strong correlation of CO2 and temperature in the Antarctic ice core records does not in and of itself imply that CO2 has a radiative impact on climate. However, additional analyses that look at the factors controlling temperature during the ice ages give strong grounds for believing that CO2 does play an important role. Therefore while the use of the correlation argument alone is wrong, the converse of the conclusion is not necessarily true.

Secondly, it helps to have done the homework. It is highly unlikely (though not impossible) that the sceptical point in question has not already been raised in the literature and at meetings. If a particular point has been argued to death previously and people have moved on (either because it was resolved, moot or simply from boredom), there is little point bringing it up again unless there is something new to talk about. Obviously, a good summary of how the point was dealt with can be educational though. Arguments about whether the current CO2 rise is caused by human activity fall clearly into this category.

Thirdly, scepticism has to be applied uniformly. Absolute credence in one obscure publication while distrusting mountains of ‘mainstream’ papers is a sure sign of cherry picking data to support an agenda, not clear-thinking scepticism. Not all papers get the peer review they deserve (or require) and the literature has many examples of dubious logic and unsupported interpretation. Sometimes this becomes very clear (for instance, the Soon and Baliunas saga at Climate Research), and sometimes it goes uncommented upon. But what about Galileo? Wasn’t he an obscure scientist persecuted by an entrenched mainstream? Yes, but Galileo is celebrated today because he was correct, not because he was persecuted. If an idea is right, it will be supported by additional evidence and will lead to successful predictions – at which point it will likely be accepted. The ‘Galileo’ defence (and its corollary the ‘establishment conspiracy’) are usually a sign that the additional evidence and the successful predictions are lacking.

Finally, it should be understood that constructive scepticism is a mainstay of the scientific method. The goal of science is to come closer to a comprehensive picture of how the real world works, with scepticism essential to toughening up scientific ideas, though alone, it is insufficient to move understanding forward. It isn’t essential that every true sceptic have an alternative theory ready to go, but they should bear in mind that our picture of how the world works, though incomplete, rests on many different foundations. If it sometimes seems that the scientific consensus is resistant to new ideas, it is because that consensus has already been tested in many ways and yet still stands.

Ryan Nassichuk November 16, 2009 at 10:24 pm

I’d go with option number three, but change “ATTN” to “Attention”. Make the policy very clear, and censor away!

You are amazing, Milan, and I suspect the readership of this blog will continue to increase exponentially. No matter which policy you pick, some censorship will be required at some point in the future anyhow.

Antonia November 17, 2009 at 7:22 am

I’d go for a combination of 1 and 2, but include in the reply that, if after reading the previous entries or authoritative source you provide, they have issues with it’s quality or accuracy you would be happy to talk further, or provide more digestible or more scientific references to assist them.

Antonia November 17, 2009 at 7:24 am

@Rob – the difficulty is distinguishing between trolls and those who have just been sold the trolls’ and deniers’ propaganda too effectively, so may be reachable if better informed.

Antonia November 17, 2009 at 7:25 am

Collated resource entries are of course very useful for this…

Milan November 17, 2009 at 8:50 am

Antonia,

The trouble is, that approach assumes good faith on the part of commentors. I think a fair number of these people just want to waste the time of climate bloggers and confuse the readers of climate blogs. They are happy to spin out discussions forever, as long as they are getting any kind of response.

Tristan November 17, 2009 at 10:10 am

This is a serious question – how, when, and for how long do we engage with those whose disagreement with us is no longer productive? I think the best strategy would be to invoke a policy which is post-specific. For instance, you could have one policy of censorship for most posts, and then a policy of tolerance for one forum or on specific posts, where climate deniers can spin their lies freely. This would have the advantage of keeping the blog clean, without completely destroying the possibility for disagreement.

Rob November 17, 2009 at 10:11 am

@Antonia – I’m not sure that’s so much of a problem. First, I’m fairly sure you can negligently troll; if you end up walking and talking like a troll because you haven’t bothered not to, then you really are a troll. Second, for anyone who’s not already a confirmed denier, then the one obvious way of convincing them of the realities of climate change is probably by appearing trustworthy on other subjects. Here, emphasising the way in which you think deniers are beyond the pale may actually be helpful. If everyone I trust regards some position I hold as obviously crazy, then I have good reason and am under significant psychological pressure to alter it.

Milan November 17, 2009 at 10:15 am

For instance, you could have one policy of censorship for most posts, and then a policy of tolerance for one forum or on specific posts, where climate deniers can spin their lies freely.

That seems to be what Greenfyre has done.

Milan November 17, 2009 at 10:18 am

One other alternative is to mark denier comments as spam. If you are using a system like Akismet, doing so will increase the chances of them being marked as spam automatically on other sites.

In some cases, this seems like a good approach.

If I see comments that are obviously being copied and pasted onto a bunch of different sites, I will consider marking them as spam. Note that, in most cases, publishing a single spam comment on my site earns your IP address a lifetime ban. (My spam numbers have been cut nearly fifty-fold since I started doing that.)

Emily November 17, 2009 at 10:32 am

Could you not just have a stock climate change denier response? Link them to your climate change fact sheet or write out once a list of common misconceptions and paste that when they inevitably use the same tired arguments again. Don’t waste your energy with idiots who are focused on aggravating your efforts.

Milan November 17, 2009 at 10:43 am

There are many flavours of denier, and they don’t always show their stripes right away. For instance, ‘Andrew’ didn’t show himself to be outside the realm of reasonable debate until he asserted that: “Historical evidence that CO2 is not a climate driver is crucial for the current debate.”

Perhaps the best approach is to keep dealing with them on a case-by-case basis, using the various options described above as appropriate. Eventually, however, if the volume continues to grow I may need to start doing something more automatic.

R.K. November 17, 2009 at 10:57 am

Yet another option is keeping the denier comments, but obscuring them somehow. For instance, through disemvoweling.

Emily November 17, 2009 at 5:10 pm

I think case by case is probably your best bet, to maintain a kind of friendly space for discussion and debate. But, if someone is a really determined and obvious climate change denier/delayer without anything meaningful to say – you could just have a message to disengage. I would think just a stock message that gets the message across that you are not interested in discussing topics that have been flogged to death already on the blog, and a link to your climate page.

I mean, I think people can be climate change deniers/delayers but still have important angles or different perspectives to discuss.

But, maybe I am feeling more patient with them than you are, since I don’t have to engage with them.

Milan November 17, 2009 at 5:15 pm

There is a HAL9000 quote that would serve:

This conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.

Emily November 17, 2009 at 5:57 pm

haha… Golly. The face of environmentalism is no longer a patchouli soaked, long haired peacenik. It is now an emotionless, killer machine.

Milan November 17, 2009 at 6:01 pm

HAL gets a bad rap. He was just following his orders, which specified that he should take any means necessary to prevent the crew of Discovery from finding out the true purpose behind their mission to Jupiter.

Killing them before they did wasn’t malicious – it was the utterly neutral execution of an order. Be careful what you ask computers to do, because they will always do precisely what you say – not necessarily what you want.

In any case, that quotation is even more chilling in the context of the film, as it is the last line in the famous “I can’t do that Dave” dialogue.

. November 17, 2009 at 6:20 pm
Gail November 17, 2009 at 7:41 pm

Emily (my favorite name) I am old now. I remember going to the opening of 2001 in Boston, a young teenager, with some friends. We had dropped acid and were just getting high as we walked down Tremont Street from the Commons, going past Filene’s towards the theatre. Of course, I had on a mini mini skirt and some boys came up behind me and yanked it up over my hips.
Screaming, I ran with my friends into the basement lingerie department, where we hid in the racks of underwear until they gave up.
Then, we went to watch the movie, and it was quite an experience.
And so now it’s gone from patchouli-soaked long haired peacenik to emotionless killer machine?
I grieve for all you young people, and apologize. I did vote for Jimmy Carter, and his solar panels on top of the White House. But I should have done more.

Tristan November 17, 2009 at 9:45 pm

Wow there Milan – Hal got a bad rap for a good reason – we expect a machine that makes decisions to not merely follow orders but exercise judgment and be able to know when an order or rule is no longer appropriate. Any judge that merely follows rules without recognizing whether or not the particular case in which it is being applied ought to have been an exception but couldn’t have been foreseen in advance (either because it was unknowable that this situation would arise, or because the set of possible exceptions is simply too large to define every one in advance), is not a judge at all.

We expect deciders to act as human beings, and we rightly condemn Hal for not living up to a standard which machines can’t live up to.

Dave November 17, 2009 at 11:12 pm

When will it ever end. Friends of Science Video ad campaign.

“Ad Campaign Takes Aim at Climate Change”

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/ad-campaign-takes-aim-at-climate-change/article1367291/

. November 17, 2009 at 11:38 pm
Milan November 18, 2009 at 3:12 pm

Nicholas Stern’s 2009 book A Blueprint for a Safer Planet: How to Manage Climate Change and Create a New Era of Progress and Prosperity contains a good quote about climate science and risk management:

The argument for inaction, or for weak or delayed action, would make sense on the basis of reservations about the science only if one could assert that we know for certain that the risks are small. In the face of the evidence we now have, that is a complacent, ignorant and dangerous position to take. It is not healthy skepticism or an openness of mind; it is a denial of evidence and reason.

We have to hope that message gets through to policy-makers in states that are major emitters, and that it does so while the costs of mitigation are still manageable.

oleh November 19, 2009 at 1:00 am

I suggest you use your discretion, although I would lean towards No 1 and 2. Perhaps because I am old fashioned I do not like No. 3. I think No. 4 is too time absorbing.

No. 1 seems like the most popular of choices to date of those who identified themselves by number (As far as I can make out, and allowing for multiple votes it broke down as follows No. 1 – 4 votes, No and 3 – 2 votes each; No. 4 two votes specifically against that option.

The general message seems to be that you can use your time more wisely than spending a lot of it on climate change deniers.

Also on a positive note , congratulations for the increased traffic.

Antonia November 19, 2009 at 10:52 am

@Rob ‘emphasising the way in which you think deniers are beyond the pale may actually be helpful’
I hate turning the tactics I find unacceptable in ultra-conservatives against them. It leaves me feeling sullied and hasn’t worked too well for those who have adopted it to date. Just as I don’t think Dawkins approach to faith reaches many unconvinced by his arguments to start with.
Its hard to persuade people who aren’t listening to or reading your arguments. While I agree that you can negligently troll, convincing ‘unconfirmed deniers’ of the quality of your site is going to be hard if they’re not reading it because they find it repels attempts to engage and inform themselves better. My essential argument is that separating the confirmed from unconfirmed is usually only possible from dialogue, so excluding that means you’re only talking to those who already share your views. There’s enough inbuilt obstacles to reaching outside a sympathetic audience, but it depends whether Milan’s intention is to chronicle matters for the ‘illuminated’ or shed light further.

@R.K ‘Disemvoweling’ interesting but time consuming, so time wasting. The issue isn’t censoring their ideas – after all they expose their flaws all too well. The problem is soaking up time rehashing dead-end arguments debated to exhaustion previously on the site or more authoritative places. Such censorship is discomfiting anyway.

Antonia November 19, 2009 at 10:53 am

Apologies for being to tired to think to use html tags when quoting earlier.

R.K. November 19, 2009 at 11:12 am

The process need not be labour intensive:

http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/disemvowel/

R.K. November 19, 2009 at 11:19 am

This one is better, as the operation can be reversed:

http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/controll-disemvowel-comments/

greenfyre November 19, 2009 at 12:37 pm
. November 23, 2009 at 2:22 pm

“Back around 2000 leading climate scientists talked to each other mostly about their science–debating one another’s data and analysis and negotiating travel, collaboration and other administration–and a little bit about policy. As time passed they have had to spend more and more of their time answering criticism of the scientific results already established, criticism mostly based on ignorance, fallacious reasoning, and even deliberately deceptive claims. Still more recently they have had to spend far too much of their time defending their personal reputations against ignorant or slanderous attacks.”

. November 25, 2009 at 10:47 am

Competitive Enterprise Institute intends to sue blogger over moderation policy

Yes they’re planning to sue Schmidt for the “inappropriate behavior” of moderating comments at RealClimate. Of course, the point of this vexatious suit isn’t to win — it’s to harass and distract Schmidt because he is being effective.

. November 30, 2009 at 10:02 am

Engaging With Climate Skeptics

In the wake of the CRU “climategate” leak, reader Geoffrey.landis sends along a New York Times blog profile of Judith Curry, a climate scientist at Georgia Tech. “Curry — unlike many climate scientists — does not simply dismiss the arguments of ‘climate skeptics,’ but attempts to engage them in dialogue. She can, as well, be rather pointed in criticizing her colleagues, as in a post on the skeptic site climateaudit where she argues for greater transparency for climate data and calculations (mirrored here). In this post she makes a point that tribalism in science is the main culprit here —- that when scientists ‘circle the wagons’ to defend against what they perceive to be unfair (and unscientific) attacks, the result can be damaging to the actual science being defended. Is it still possible to conduct a dialogue, or is there no possible common ground?”

. February 19, 2010 at 2:42 pm

“Does the spirit of scientific scepticism really require that I remain forever open-minded to denialist humbug until it’s shown to be wrong?” The author, who is not named, spent several hours picking apart the arguments of one Willis Eschenbach, AGW denialist, who on Dec. 8 published what he called the “smoking gun” — it was supposed to prove that the adjustments climate scientists make to historical temperature records are arbitrary to the point of intentional manipulation. The conclusion: “[H]ere’s my solution to this problem: this is why we have peer review. Average guys with websites can do a lot of amazing things. One thing they cannot do is reveal statistical manipulation in climate-change studies that require a PhD in a related field to understand. So for the time being, my response to any and all further ‘smoking gun’ claims begins with: show me the peer-reviewed journal article demonstrating the error here. Otherwise, you’re a crank and this is not a story. And then I’ll probably go ahead and try to investigate the claim and write a blog post about it, because that’s my job. Oh, and by the way: October was the hottest month on record in Darwin, Australia.”

. March 5, 2010 at 2:03 pm

“Suppose someone sits down where you are sitting right now and announces to me that he is Napoleon Bonaparte. The last thing I want to do with him is to get involved in a technical discussion of cavalry tactics at the Battle of Austerlitz. If I do that, I’m getting tacitly drawn into the game that he is Napoleon Bonaparte.”

-Robert Solow

. March 24, 2010 at 1:55 pm

“In short, it involves questioning, not arguing. The key is definitely NOT to feed people a whole lot of information — technical data, peer-reviewed scientific studies, charts, reference to expert consensus, etc. Been there, done that, does’t work. That’s only useful later, when people are genuinely open to finding out more about a topic (be it climate change, nuclear energy, whatever). Nope, instead you have to get out a little metaphorical chisel, and start chipping away slowly at their belief edifice, with ever deepening interrogation.

Let me illustrate briefly, with a hypothetical example. Mr Hartigan is talking to Kevin, who has just proclaimed that “Man-made global warming is a crock!“.

Hartigan cocks and eyebrow and says “Which do you mean — that the climate is not warming, or that it is not caused by human activity?“.

Kevin quickly replies “Climate is always changing; we have nothing to do with it“.

“Okay“, follows Hartigan, “So you accept that it is getting warmer?“

“Well, I suppose” says Kevin, “But its not caused by CO2“.

“Hmmm. Do you agree that the atmospheric concentration of CO2 is rising?” (Hartigan)

“Yes” (Kevin)

“Do you acknowledge that this rise is caused by the combustion of fossil fuels?” (Hartigan)

“Yes, but the rise is effectively irrelevant” (Kevin)

“Could you clarify? Do you mean that CO2 is not a greenhouse gas that traps and re-radiates infrared?” (Hartigan)

“No, obviously it’s a greenhouse gas, but its effect is logarithmic and is no longer of importance at current concentrations” (Kevin)

“Do you mean, by this, that all of the outgoing wavelength absorption bands are saturated?” (Hartigan)

“I suppose so, I don’t know the details” (Kevin)

“Fair enough. But can we agree then that if all of the radiation bands are not saturated — and I can show you the physical measurements that demonstrate this — then you will need to re-evaluate your position on the relevance to climate change of adding extra CO2 to the atmosphere?” (Hartigan)

… and so on. As you can see, it takes time and patience, but potential distractions continue to fall by the wayside. (Perhaps, in the comments section of this blog post, you can develop some other ‘hypotheticals’ — be it on climate sensitivity or the sustainability of nuclear energy, or any number of other points).”

Milan May 21, 2010 at 5:02 pm

One of the best things about having a blog is that when I want to talk about something, it forces me to put my thinking, arguments, and evidence out there where anybody can scrutinize it.

Anybody who speaks English and has internet access can find my posts and tell me at length that I am wrong. Often, comments are convincing and alter how I think about things. Indeed, on many topics, I feel like my thinking has evolved as a consequence of conversations, discussions, and all-out arguments that have taken place here.

. July 8, 2010 at 10:44 am

“By reacting like this, those who deny manmade climate change pay the issue a backhanded compliment. The viciousness of their invective, often directed at the authors of obscure studies of Siberian tree rings or oceanic chemistry, bears witness to the importance of climate science and the political weight its findings must carry.”

. November 4, 2010 at 4:30 pm

I see a lot of the same, tired, and totally wrong arguments about global warming over and over again whenever I write about it. “The other planets are warming!”, “In the 70s scientists said the Earth was cooling!”, “The climate scientists were caught faking their data!”

Wrong, wrong, and wrong. It’s almost as if the people making so much noise against the idea of global warming are robots, just repeating their arguments in the hope — sadly, probably correctly — that people will be swayed by repetition.

Software developer Nigel Leck feels the same way, so he created a ‘bot for Twitter that scans for key words used by climate change denialists and tweets automatic rebuttals to the most common “arguments”. It’s pretty awesome: it posts a short, pithy debunking with a link to sites for more detail. The ‘bot is called AI_AGW and you can follow it on Twitter (note: it tweets a lot).

. March 3, 2011 at 12:19 am

IF YOU Google the phrase “Middle East rumours”, the first link that pops up is not, as you might expect, a website propagating conspiracy theories. It is Coca-Cola’s website. For several years now the company has struggled to rebut ridiculous rumours about its products.

For example, some people believe that if you read Coke’s Arabic logo backwards, it says: “No Muhammad, No Mecca”. Others insist that the company is owned by Jews, or that it bankrolls Israel. These rumours are one reason why Coke does worse than Pepsi in Arab countries. Yet they are all false, as Coke’s website explains in painstaking detail.

Such rebuttals are unwise, argue Derek Rucker and David Dubois, of the Kellogg School of Management, and Zakary Tormala, of Stanford business school, three psychologists. By restating the rumours, Coke helps to propagate them. Its web page is a magnet for search engines. And people who read rebuttals tend to forget the denial and remember only the rumour, says Mr Rucker.

As information is passed around, important qualifiers are lost. A rumour may start as “I’m not sure if this is true, but I heard that…” Then it evolves into: “I heard that…” Finally it becomes: “Did you know that…?” Even when no one intends to spread falsehoods, they spread.

In several experiments, Mr Rucker and Mr Dubois planted rumours among undergraduates. They found that with each repetition, scepticism diminished. The rumours themselves did not change; only the likelihood that the students would believe them. These findings were published in a report called “The Failure to Transmit Certainty”.

. March 20, 2011 at 5:51 pm

Google Takes On Climate Change Skeptics With New Technology Effort

By Maria Gallucci

18 March, 2011
Solveclimatenews.com

The search giant has brought together a team of 21 climate researchers to improve the way the science of global warming is communicated using new media

Climate change skeptics who have created a political megaphone in Washington may finally meet their match in the world’s largest search engine.

Google.org, the technology giant’s philanthropic arm, has hand-picked a team of 21 fellows working in climate research to improve the way the science of global warming is communicated to the public and lawmakers through new media.

“We are seeing very clearly with climate change that our policy choices are currently not grounded in knowledge and understanding,” said Paul Higgins, a Google fellow and an associate policy director for the American Meteorological Society.

The Google Science Communication Fellows program named its first round of participants on Tuesday. The announcement could not have come at a more timely juncture.

. October 10, 2013 at 10:56 am

L.A. Times won’t publish climate-denier letters

Regular readers of The Times’ Opinion pages will know that, among the few letters published over the last week that have blamed the Democrats for the government shutdown (a preponderance faulted House Republicans), none made the argument about Congress exempting itself from Obamacare.

Why? Simply put, this objection to the president’s healthcare law is based on a falsehood, and letters that have an untrue basis (for example, ones that say there’s no sign humans have caused climate change) do not get printed.

. February 17, 2014 at 3:25 pm

Last year, for instance, we learned that by hurling insults and inciting discord in online comment sections, so-called internet “trolls” (who are frequently anonymous) have a polarizing effect on audiences, leading to politicization, rather than deeper understanding of scientific topics.

That’s bad, but it’s nothing compared with what a new psychology paper has to say about the personalities of so-called trolls themselves. The research, conducted by Erin Buckels of the University of Manitoba and two colleagues, sought to directly investigate whether people who engage in trolling are characterized by personality traits that fall in the so-called “Dark Tetrad”: Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate and deceive others), narcissism (egotism and self-obsession), psychopathy (the lack of remorse and empathy), and sadism (pleasure in the suffering of others).

It is hard to underplay the results: The study found correlations, sometimes quite significant, between these traits and trolling behavior. What’s more, it also found a relationship between all Dark Tetrad traits (except for narcissism) and the overall time that an individual spent, per day, commenting on the internet.

—-

Trolls just want to have fun

In two online studies (total N = 1215), respondents completed personality inventories and a survey of their Internet commenting styles. Overall, strong positive associations emerged among online commenting frequency, trolling enjoyment, and troll identity, pointing to a common construct underlying the measures. Both studies revealed similar patterns of relations between trolling and the Dark Tetrad of personality: trolling correlated positively with sadism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism, using both enjoyment ratings and identity scores. Of all personality measures, sadism showed the most robust associations with trolling and, importantly, the relationship was specific to trolling behavior. Enjoyment of other online activities, such as chatting and debating, was unrelated to sadism. Thus cyber-trolling appears to be an Internet manifestation of everyday sadism.

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