back to article Twitter trolls are destroying democracy, warn eggheads

Twitter trolls are undermining what political analysts had predicted would be a new form of responsive democracy. Far from being an opportunity to engage directly with voters, researchers found that the more politicians tried to actively interact with their constituents, the more abuse they faced. The eggheads, based in …

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  1. jgarry

    You know it's bad when...

    South Park hits the nail on the head better than the eggheads. For those who haven't seen it, google: South Park troll

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: You know it's bad when...

      Sir, public opinion of Denmark is very shit.

  2. Nate Amsden

    the solution

    Is to destroy twitter, facebook, and other sites like them.

    I think linkedin is somewhat helpful(to me anyway), though the stupid feed that people post pictures to and write comments is dumb.

    1. Dazed and Confused
      Trollface

      Re: the solution

      > Is to destroy twitter, facebook, and other sites like them.

      I guess it's easier to tweet than to write letters to the editor of the thunderer like we did before this confounded interweb thing came along.

      1. Wensleydale Cheese

        Re: the solution

        "I guess it's easier to tweet than to write letters to the editor of the thunderer like we did before this confounded interweb thing came along."

        Composing letters to the editor of The Thunderer was much more fun, especially if you did it as a group effort.

        You could also wait until sober before popping it into an envelope and despatching it :-)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: the solution

          Are politicians really stupid enough to believe the people responding to them on twitter are voters in their area? Are the people who did this study equally daft? Are we even sure most of the responders aren't bots?

          Has anyone else noticed that some people supporting one view or another go onto twitter, stir up some bad responses and then give that as proof that they're being attacked and that their cause is therefore just? You can stir up that kind of vile response by suggesting that the best Smarites are the red ones for goodness sake..... it doesn't make you right.

          It seems to me there are three choices:

          1. Try and police Twitter..... which is expensive and fruitless for the most part. Twitter themselves haven't got the time or inclination and I don't want to pay the police to support their business model..... and in the end it just doesn't work.

          2. Tell people to use it at their own risk.

          3. Ban Twitter.

          2. Tell

  3. graeme leggett

    from what i've seen...

    There are two types of interaction.

    A) politician says something in line with their or party's already espoused policy

    a bunch of unpleasantness ensues from the opposite (extreme) side of political divide

    B) politician says something completely barking

    take a well deserved verbal kicking from everyone.

    Now as to whether it's interaction A or B that you observe may be influenced by your own political standpoint

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: from what i've seen...

      Don't forget that most people assume that when a politician opens his mouth or writes something the result will be a lie and they react accordingly.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: from what i've seen...

        You mean there are still people out there who do take politicians at their word!?

        We have to help those people!

    2. Voland's right hand Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: from what i've seen...

      Slightly more complicated.

      The perceived anonymity of the medium and lack of face to face interaction bring out of the woodwork behaviours that are normally suppressed in public. Spend 10 mins reading Tw*tter or F***book and you will come to realize just how unhinged is part of the population. They hide it during their day to day life as they are trained to conform by society and/or afraid to cope one in the face. The moment they show up on Tw*tter and F***book they throw away most of their inhibitions.

      This behaviour creates a perfect storm when interacting with politicians. Politicians (even the few smart ones) by trade try to reach as many people as possible - their social network settings are set to allow the maximum possible amount of people interacting with them. As a result they end up being the perfect target for Urgghh of Urghhh's basement and his friends.

      So in addition to the two obvious use cases you have mentioned there is a third one - someone with serious problems using a politician on the web to satisfy his urges.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Remember the various "bubbles"?

    I can't wait for the "Twittersphere" to implode in the exact same way. It can't come a moment too soon.

  5. Teiwaz

    And they expected what? from postcard sized posts

    Having a 140 (or whatever it is now) limit just encourages the foam at the mouth incoherent contingent.

    I still think an intelligent use of a minimum word limit would weed out some of the idiots, or at least force them to be be more literate in their abuse (some of them might even graduate to gritty contemporary literature).

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: And they expected what? from postcard sized posts

      Transmetropolitan's opening issue shows a way to troll such a minimum: a book consisting of nothing but the F-word repeated 8,000 times.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: And they expected what? from postcard sized posts

        Maybe, using AI perhaps, it will be possible in future to 'train' naughty Twits in some way. A bot could watch for words or combinations of words that tend to indicate trolling, and then when certain levels are reached, begin a program of gentle suggestions, which would escalate to threats and finally punishments. A surrogate Mother, as it were.

        After all, these are mostly simple trolls. They got to be trolls due to past behavioral conditioning, and that same method can be used to correct the problem, right?

        1. Diogenes

          Re: And they expected what? from postcard sized posts

          But twatter also applies quite a heavy thumb on the scales, say a movie that sjws lurve is crap because... - shadowbanning, outright banning , supporter of movie twats death threats all is a-ok

        2. Neil Barnes Silver badge

          Re: And they expected what? from postcard sized posts

          @BigJohn: David Brin came up with a lovely one in Earth:

          Hello. You have been infected with the program EmilyPost because your presence on the net is impinging on the rights and enjoyment of others... We suggest you try behaving in a more grown-up manner. If you don't, you will soon discover certain features of EmilyPost...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: And they expected what? from postcard sized posts

            I've read some Brin, great writer. I'll have to read that one!

      2. Teiwaz

        Re: And they expected what? from postcard sized posts

        Transmetropolitan's opening issue shows a way to troll such a minimum: a book consisting of nothing but the F-word repeated 8,000 times.

        Why I said 'intelligent' use. That sort of thing would be easy to detect, the message threaded through another text which the human brain would easily pick out are potentially more difficult.

  6. Reg T.

    Let's See -

    Demos Kratos being destroyed - by the Demos? How novel.

    No doubt that Strong Man to follow is the only hope.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Let's See -

      "Strong Man to follow" like who ? Caesar, Ghengis Khan, Henry VIII, Napolean, Hitler, Stalin a-like ?

      frick' help us ALL. ( I can't say G** help us, as an atheist that would be a bit well stupid )

  7. Daggerchild Silver badge

    "What happened to the American Dream? It came true!"

    It's a bit like star formation.

    A gentle low pressure dispersion of low energy individuals gets slowly pulled together to the centre just from the simple wish to be closer to each other, and they begin bumping into each other more and more, each individual collecting more and more energy as they try harder and harder to push it off onto someone else, but failing, as others also push onto you, until they actually push hard enough to start injuring each other, which just crosses the line and releases a whole new level of energy into an already saturated system, and everything starts going to hell.

    The only ingredients needed are a large number of individuals, the desire to be closer to each other, and the removal of the cost of doing so. The rest is inevitable. Sociophysics 101 ;-)

    You can't construct in a high entropy environment. You can only degrade the ingredients.

    1. David Pollard

      Re: "What happened to the American Dream? It came true!"

      This is pretty much what Arthur Koestler suggested in his 1967 work The Ghost in the Machine. Wars and indeed most aggressive acts stem not so much from an inherently angry and aggressive nature but from a deep rooted desired to be liked and recognised by fellow humans.

      1. Ashley_Pomeroy

        Re: "What happened to the American Dream? It came true!"

        "It became necessary to destroy the town in order to make it love us."

  8. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Trolls - living, breathing, people or Bots?

    Seems there's been a flurry of reports lately that an awful lot of the political trolling is done by bots. Is this report flawed? Does it matter if it's a human or bot doing the trolling?

    Either way, the end result is the same.. anger, hate, name-calling, dissention, and destruction of the process of democracy (or the republic, depending on one's point of view).

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: Trolls - living, breathing, people or Bots?

      Tension, apprehension, and dissension have begun...

      (c) Alfred Bester

    2. EricM
      Stop

      Re: Trolls - living, breathing, people or Bots? <- Really important question

      This is a very important question that needs answering not only for obvious trolls, but also for seemingly normal posters. Some usually smaller political groups already confessed to actively use bots ( or plan to do so ) to "publish their views", as they put it. Effectively, since no human reader can tell a bot from a human, they create the impression in social media that they represent widely held views. While it is unclear if a bot or human posts to a so-called "social" media - or a comment section of a website for that matter - we keep this pseudo-democratic communication open to massive manipulation that can spill over to real election results.Manipulation cannot only be executed by domestic political or private players, but also by foreign states.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It is a sytemic problem

    It is not surprising. There is growing hate, selfishness, bigotry and intolerance leading to polarised tribalism and divided society. Social media is just reflecting the fascism which is growing in the wider world.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It is a sytemic problem

      Social media isn't a neutral medium though. It actively partitions people into camps. Their only exposure to the other camp is though the twisted lens of social media itself.

      Case in point: London journalists complaining they could only see remain people talking. Brexit people were essentially masked from their horizon. (And vice versa)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It is a sytemic problem

      I think social media is causing it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It is a sytemic problem

        It is. Think about how interactions have shifted.

        Pre-web, people were forced to interact with whoever was nearby physically. So the people in your orbit were a very rough cross-section of society. Regional and local differences do exist, but are still part of a continuum.

        But now an individual with certain interests need not try to match up with the few candidates available locally. They may instead get together with all those other left-handed butt-plug aficionados scattered around the world, forming a separate and sizable tribe of like-minded people.

        This then tends to cut off local interaction, which is seen as less pleasing. Is it any wonder we're being driven apart by that great connector, the web?

        1. James R Grinter

          Re: It is a sytemic problem

          Pre web? Did you never see/use Usenet?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: It is a sytemic problem

            I consider Usenet part of the web. If it isn't, what is it?

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: It is a sytemic problem

              It's simply the greater interaction and ease of communication with people around the world. It means that people you used to go "oh that's crazy dan, he hates XYZ, just nod and move on" while down the pub can find other people just like themselves in the world and then form groups. While before they were just crazy dan the only crazy in the village, or at least that brand of crazy.

              If you actually boil down the numbers of the world the number of crazies probably haven't gone up by that much just now they can all get together and be louder then most other groups (all kinds of crazy, whether you like that crazy or not, from occupy to the weird church people) the internet has decended into angry crazy people shouting at anyone and everyone who they think may not agree 100% with their specific ideology while all the normal people just get on with life.

              As an aside my twitter is a happy place of happy things mostly in Japanese and anyone talking about Western Politics gets blocked along with "issues" of pretty much any sort.

              However then the media and politician and the like respond to all the crazy people while if you look at the numbers they probably don't even make up 5% of the population and they probably often don't even represent the people their getting crazy for (for example whitewashing outrage about ghost in the shell, when most of the Japanese I know anecdotally were pleased as punch at the selection). So in the end everyone thinks everyone is crazy and rude so become crazier and ruder themselves.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: It is a sytemic problem

              >>> Pre-web, people were forced to interact with whoever was nearby physically.

              >> Pre web? Did you never see/use Usenet?

              > I consider Usenet part of the web. If it isn't, what is it?

              Pre-internet, pre-web, pre-usenet, pre-IRC, pre-BBS, whatever. It was all "social media", and it always had these problems.

              Point is, the vast majority of people only started using it within the last 10-20 years. Then the disease became a global pandemic.

              1. Mephistro
                Happy

                Re: It is a sytemic problem (@ AC)

                Yes! Before the net, before telephone and telegraph, there was this huge social networks, whose nodes were lots of curtain twisters with several degrees of curtain twisterness.

                The old lady in the veranda with the binoculars is the ancient equivalent of a big local node! :-)

              2. Long John Brass

                Re: It is a sytemic problem

                >>> Pre-web, people were forced to interact with whoever was nearby physically.

                >> Pre web? Did you never see/use Usenet?

                > I consider Usenet part of the web. If it isn't, what is it?

                I'm old enough to remember the promise of a "Computer in every home" then it was "The information super highway" will make the world a global village and unicorns will piss rainbows and shit gold

                I was running a dialup BBS in the 80's and even in that little community there were trolls; Mind you the trolls at least tried to be funny in those days, then I got a Fido net connection and oh my god ... (It's full of stars arseholes)

                The upside of the internet is that anyone with a niche hobby, no matter how obscure can find like minded individuals , if your thing is making scale replicas of historical sites using paper matches then there will be a group out there for you

                Downside is that every loony tune, mouth breathing, window licking, paint chip eating retard also has a forum for their particular brand of stupid.

                Problem is that if you try and shut down the latter you also kill off the former leaving only corporate sponsored socially responsible content is its wake; Which it quickly kill off anything vaguely useful

                The trolls will always be with us, we just need to grow up & learn to ignore em. otherwise it will be endless rounds of ... Whaaaa someone said something mean in the interwebs ... Whaaaa ban them mommy.

          2. Paul Kinsler Silver badge

            Re: Pre web? Did you never see/use Usenet?

            Early internet "social media" were (at least in my experience) just that, /social/ media: e.g. usenet was based on groups, irc had channels. You might have thrown your ego about in such forums, and some were admins or moderators, but essentially the forum was about the group or social interest of those who turned up and posted/talked there.

            In contrast, contemporary social media tend to be explicitly about ego: e.g. /my/ twitter feed, /my/ facebook page. I think it changes how we see and use the medium, and what we expect of it. Likewise, the up/down-vote scoring sometimes seen in this kind of "ego-media" changes the default experience of the internet glasshouse.

  10. tfewster Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Predictable

    The average MP only has the support of about 30% of their constituents (as least-worst choice). i.e. >70% are likely to be unhappy to begin with. Now people find that "their" MP is actually listening to them - So they're going to take the opportunity to vent.

    It's probably a useful barometer of the mood of people (who use social media), but not to be taken too seriously. And another good point for the MP is that they don't have to respond individually, as they do with letters.

  11. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Mushroom

    I hope nobody is paying for this "research"!

    "On Twitter, candidates can listen to citizens' feedback directly, while they also have the opportunity to respond using a platform whose laconic conversational structure allows for short and concise messages that enable strategic ambiguity and reduce the danger of loss of content control. Interactive use has been shown to have benefits for both sides, with politicians standing to especially benefit by being generally seen more positively when they interact with the public than when they don't."

    Is this some kind of Sokal-style hoax? Can ANYONE tell me what is being said here? How is Twitter a magic sauce for interacting with citizens? It's an utterly confusing sub-200 character messaging tool for the hyperactivity disorder generation (it may be useful to post one's score in some game or something or list the ingredients of the latest pizẑa one had, om nom nom!). If one wants to communicate one can actually take the time to write an argumentative piece. Possibly with diagrams, timelines, properly aligned links to further information etc. It helps to think things through. Moreover, the person the receiving end may also get a chance to find out that the position is not rational at all but just carried along by ideology, incomprehension of human action and "Hope!". Structured communication is important, especially in the age of new laws and directives based on stress-inducing medja output by reporters barely able to think, read or write but ready to suck up to persons of influence to become "insiders".

    tl;dr for the citizen? Well, WE HAVE A PROBLEM. Maybe things should slow down, maybe a lot of crap should be thrown overboard, maybe one should stop pining for "democracy" and look into having a working "republic" (On this, Waking Up in Hillary Clinton’s America: Wall Street in the Saddle is a good read although the author totally doesn't understand the wreckage that Keynesian policies, so beloved by left and right alike, are the real problem), maybe a whole lot of civil servants and politicians should be thrown out into the cold world to fend for themselves, God knows the top-heavy system is just about to collapse in on itself.

    Twitter is not for engaging the citizen, it's for virtue-signaling, posturing and publicly stating one's herd position: "Against Racism" / "Against Global Warming" / "Against Rape On Campus" / "Against BDS" / "For More Free Money" / "For Women's Rights in Lybia" / "Against Global Warming" / "X Lives Matter" / and similar bullshit.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: I hope nobody is paying for this "research"!

      Have an upvote. The downvotes just prove your points.

      Irony, they haz it.

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: I hope nobody is paying for this "research"!

        With the added observation that both Twitter and Facebook help in the current obsession with reducing every question to two points - basically, agree or disagree. The fact that there may - and I would suggest in most cases *is* - a continuum both of opinion and of options on pretty much everything rather gets lost in the noise.

        One is expected to vote for one political party when one probably, if one should happen to think about instead of voting as your parents did, prefer some of the policies of one party and some of the policies of the other. One is asked whether one wishes to be a member of the EU or not, and not on which conditions, or whether things might change without such a major political split.

        Outside computing, most things don't have binary options - but people are led to believe they are.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: I hope nobody is paying for this "research"!

          Because votes tend to be black and white. It's not like you can vote partly for one person and partly for another. It's not like you can vote partly yes and partly no to a strict yes/no question. How can you project a continuum when the situation demands a concrete answer?

          1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

            Re: I hope nobody is paying for this "research"!

            That's my point: you can't. And with the political situation as it is - both in the US and here in the UK - there is no obvious way to dispute that spectrum.

            But even if there were, the way that the questions are presented removes even the concept of a continuum; it's always a yes/no, us/them question without any consideration that there might be a grey area.

          2. Rattus Rattus

            Re: "It's not like you can vote partly for one person and partly for another"

            Well, actually...

            Preferential voting allows you to do exactly this, so long as you are willing to slightly prefer one candidate over another.

  12. Jim84

    League of legends

    League of Legends used machine learning to auto ban trolls.

    http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2015/05/riot-rolls-out-automated-instant-bans-for-league-of-legends-trolls/

    I don't see why twitter cannot do the same? Or send abusers to "egg land" for two weeks where they can only interact with other egg accounts. Are there non trivial differences between legend of legends communications and twitter?

    Also the whole anonymous thing has always confused me. Twitter has a verified account system for celebrities. Paypal uses a system where they deposit and receive a small amount of cash in a real bank account. Why doesn't twitter verify all accounts that want to be verified in this way, but allow people to remain as antonymous eggs if they want to? Twitter should allow its users to remain anonymous to each other if they want to be, but not to twitter itself. This would exponentially increase the cost and trouble of a banned account to a troll as they'd quickly run out of bank accounts.

    If you don't trust Twitter with knowing who you are, well tough, go post anonymously on The Register boards or somewhere instead. But I'd wager having access to what is effectively one of the internet's largest Bulltin Boards will force people to behave and accept jumping through an extra hoop or two.

    1. Jim84

      Re: League of legends

      Basically technology can be used to reduce the cost of moderation, and via simple identity checks, increase the cost to an individual of having their account banned/suspended. When the cost of trolling becomes to high due to the losses it incurs multiplied by the increased chance of detection and action harmony will break out on the forum.

    2. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

      Re: League of legends

      But have those blocks would stop accounts like big Ben's...

      (On that note... bong, bong)

    3. Adrian 4 Silver badge

      Re: League of legends

      It's not the 'extra hoop or two'. It's giving your real identity out to a corporation determined to mine it. I actually trust the users (hate-trolls included) more than the company.

  13. J. R. Hartley

    "the more politicians tried to actively interact with their constituents, the more abuse they faced."

    Yes. And?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "the more politicians tried to actively interact with their constituents, the more abuse they faced."

      It's a free-ish country, they can always resign.

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