Do you ever think that trolls and other loud people on the internet feel better for having "gotten it all out" online? Perhaps if you had never witnessed sustained trolling and only had a punching bag metaphor to go on, this might make sense. In the real world, however, ranting online seems more likely to beget more ranting, as one dickish comment becomes fuel for more. Add in some retaliatory loudmouthing--giving way to an asshole feedback loop--and, soon enough, a serial internet dick is born.
Instead of a cleansing, we only have a slow build up of that peculiar troll rage. All hope is lost.
That's intuition speaking, and also having been there a few times yelling on the internet. A couple of new studies bear that intuition out, according to a paper out last month in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. The research covers two different studies, both focusing on the rant-site justrage.com ("the internet anger sponge"), in which anonymous users write things like, erm, "my mom needs to fucking die."
One study interviewed users about the "perceived value" of the sites, while the other "explored the emotional impact of reading and writing rants." The first gave researchers this: "For the 24 (75 percent) of participants who post rants, in response to an open-ended question about how they felt after ranting, all 24 of them responded by indicating that they usually feel calm and relaxed."
But ranters also reported a variety of more general and long-lasting negative effects of being angry, such as negative emotions (presumably other than anger), fights, physical harm to self, and substance abuse, among others. So, there's a short-term benefit, but overall, not so much.
The second study was a bit more quantitative, using, instead of a straight-up interview, a standardized system of mood analysis called the Differential Emotions Scale. Participants were given give five minutes to rant, and then they were scored by the researchers. The results: overall happiness went down after posting, while anger went up. If something had been "gotten out" online, it had been immediately replaced but some other sort of anger. Or, more likely, nothing was actually relieved by ranting online. Instead, the troll feedback loop persists.
Taken together, the results from both studies suggest that reading and writing online rants are likely unhealthy practices as those who do them often are angrier and have more maladaptive expressions styles than others. Likewise, reading and writing online rants are associated with negative shifts in mood for the vast majority of people. The causes of these shifts in mood could not be identified from the current study, but it is likely rooted in the content of the rants they read or write.
Looking at this in the most general way possible, it makes even more sense. Trolling, ranting, and/or being a loud dick are all antisocial behaviors. And we've had a very long history here on planet Earth learning and adapting to be social creatures; we don't benefit from being antisocial. Though, one wonders what the ability to be antisocial anonymously might do to that adaption. That is, if we feel badly now after an anonymous rant, how might that change of a few hundred years of antisocial behavior without consequences?
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