Researchers studying virtual witch-hunts in digital space have found that non-anonymous online trolls are increasingly becoming the rule rather than the exception — discarding the commonly-held belief that the supposed online anonymity decreases the inhibitions of trolls on the internet.
The study, conducted by researchers at University of Zurich, evaluated more than 500,000 social-political comments from around 1,600 online petitions from the German platform https://www.openpetition.de between 2010 and 2013.
They found that individuals posting hate speech who were using their full name were even more common than anonymous trolls.
“As a means of facilitating a civilised digital culture of debate, there are often calls to scrap online anonymity,” said sociology doctoral student Lea Stahel.
“The opinion prevails that anonymity disinhibits people from committing obviously deviant actions because they can dispense with their own responsibility and are protected from direct consequences,” she added.
To find out why so many online trolls not bothering to remain anonymous, the study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, found that many online trolls simply don’t consider it necessary to remain anonymous as giving up their anonymity makes them more credible and popular.
Besides, online trolls assume that they would scarcely ever be held accountable for their aggression.
According to Stahel, it is considered very unlikely that a busy politician or a struggling company would pick precisely that person to sue when overwhelmed with a whole flood of insults.
Trolls can also convince and mobilise other people in their social networks more easily if they appear using their real name, according to the researcher.
This signalises a willingness to take a risk in order to state their opinion publicly, thus gaining extra trust. Ideally this can raise their social status, because they move in digital networks like Facebook in “Friend Groups” where their comments resonate thanks to “Shares” and “Likes”.