Over one-quarter of Americans own up to Internet troll behavior

Twenty-eight percent of Americans admit to poor online behavior

Published October 20, 2014 9:23PM (EDT)

  (<a href='http://www.istockphoto.com/user_view.php?id=9066519'>GenNealPhoto</a> via <a href='http://www.istockphoto.com/'>iStock</a>)
(GenNealPhoto via iStock)

If you've ever received a nasty email from an anonymous sender, been sent a purposely provocative tweet or been attacked in an online comments section (all three have happened to me today) you're more than familiar with the malicious behavior of Internet trolls. What you might be wondering, however, is, "Who are these people who take the time to send me snark?"

Unsurprisingly, a pretty large segment of the American population admits to Internet troll behavior. Respondents had been "deliberately provocative," or purposely bothered others by "starting arguments or posting inflammatory messages" online, according to YouGov.

An online survey done by YouGov reported that over one-quarter of adult Americans owned up to "malicious" Internet behavior. Of the 1,125 people, ages 18 and older, who participated in the online survey, 28 percent admitted to "malicious online activity directed at somebody they didn’t know." Slightly less than one-quarter of content posters -- 23 percent -- reported "having maliciously argued over an opinion with a stranger, while 23% have maliciously argued over facts." Even more startling, 12 percent reported purposely posting "controversial statements."

Of those who comment, millennials were more likely to be trolls -- twice as likely to be a troll than those 55 and older. Men were also more likely to be trolls than women.

It will come as no surprise that a majority of Americans polled believe that Internet anonymity contributes to trolling. The survey showed that 77 percent of respondents think that "people are more likely to engage in trolling behavior under cover of anonymity."

Where are the trolls lurking, and posting? Most report spotting trolling behavior at least once a week on message boards like Reddit (45 percent), social media including Facebook and Twitter (39 percent), blogs (39 percent), entertainment or news articles (36 percent), videos (33 percent) or review sites (20 percent).

The survey responses demonstrate that if you're the victim of online harassment -- which many people, especially women, report dealing with on a regular basis -- there's no great way to deal with a troll.  A whole 14 percent of adults pessimistically believe that there is no way to combat a troll, 30 percent responded saying they've reported a malicious harasser to a moderator, but over one-third (37 percent) say to just ignore the harasser.

What the survey didn't reveal is why people post malicious or provocative posts? Why do trolls troll? My colleague Joanna Rothkopf wrote about studies showing that there might be a correlation between sadism and trolling behavior.

By Sarah Gray

Sarah Gray is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on innovation. Follow @sarahhhgray or email sgray@salon.com.

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Americans Entertainment Internet Internet Culture Survey Tech Troll