Like many people, I’ve long thought that getting rid of anonymity is a way to improve online discourse. If people know that it’s actually me who is responding to somebody then I’m less likely to call them a dunderhead, or so the thinking goes.

The thinking, alas, may be wrong. A study published last month in the journal PLOS One ( with the subtitle “Online firestorms in social media”) says that losing anonymity can actually make Internet trolls more trollish, not less. As reported by Quartz:

Indeed, for some trolls, online aggression is rewarded in their social networks, and is often a deliberate public signal. People are actually trying to enforce social norms against a perceived violation by a public figure or group. That means individuals are rewarded and perceived as more credible in their group once they are identified, argues Jurgen Pfeffer, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon.”In such structures it is very likely that, if somebody says something aggressive, the majority of the group says ‘Yeah,’” he explained by email.

 Here’s the whole Quartz article, which doesn’t really have any suggestion about alternative ways to rein in the bile and over-the-top animosity which seemed to be the default communication style for a lot of people online.
The one hope is that the study is based on a German social media platform. Maybe it would be different for other countries and groups.

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