I attended the annual meeting of the Cooling Technology Institute as I was putting the finishing touches on our March issue. Though I haven’t been able to attend every annual meeting since my first (in 2000), I’m always thrilled to be back. The passion and enthusiasm of the speakers and attendees invigorates me. Spending time among them sparks ideas that will pay dividends for you in the coming issues.
I was still thinking about the insights I gained at CTI when research by Stanford University and Cornell University crossed my desk. At first, it may be hard to see how the paper — “Anyone Can Become a Troll: Causes of Trolling Behavior in Online Discussions,” published as part of the upcoming 2017 Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing — relates to cooling technology.
The researchers analyzed anonymized data from CNN website’s comment section from 2012. The data consisted of more than 26 million posts from 1.1 million users, and it included deleted posts as well as those made by commenters who were later banned. While the researchers had no way to ascertain the commenters’ mood while they posted, the Stanford/Cornell team relied on previous research that showed a correlation between mood and the time of day and day of week. (It’s not just your imagination: people are crankier late at night and in the first few days of the traditional work week.) According to the report, “Incidents of down-votes and flagged posts lined up closely with established patterns of negative mood.”
What does that mean? Commenters who might not otherwise post negative and abusive comments were susceptible to a “spiral of negativity.” If they posted when cranky, and if they received negative feedback such as down-votes or moderator comment removal, such commenters were more likely to post additional, more abusive comments. In other words, instead of encouraging civility, the mechanisms of correction amplified the negative effects.
The Stanford/Cornell research suggests that cooling off periods and a shadow ban (where a comment still appears to the poster but is not shown to other commenters) are two effective ways to diminish the self-feeding cycle of negativity that can drive many troll comment deflagrations. Can we all find it in ourselves to listen carefully, allow differences of opinion to exist without trying to out-shout all opposition, and put down the pen or the keyboard when we’re crabby? I hope so.