I've attracted a fair number of trolls over various social media platforms - the cost of being outspoken on issues that matter to me.
Though their posts are as varied as the topics that trigger them, I've generally pictured them as all the same: angry, lonely and probably male. And I've assumed that most trolling is done by the same trolls, probably around the 80/20 rule of 80% of the nastiness coming from 20% (or fewer) of the community.
But new research suggests that anyone can, and does, troll ... behind any given troll post are two factors: the commenter's mood and the context of the discussion - especially if it begins or includes another trolling comment early on. Almost like trolling spreads like a virus.
This has obvious implications for social media platforms hoping to maintain civil discussions online, and for intervening early when trolling spotted.
Sadly, it's also instructive for mechanised trolling through bots: hit early and nasty and the infection is likely to spread faster and more widely.
I hope we'll see far more research like this in the future - possibly an area of collaboration for PR and communications consultancies, and academia?
By analyzing 16 million comments made on CNN.com and conducting an online controlled experiment, we identified two key factors that can lead ordinary people to troll.