Online bullies who post abusive comments or hate speech – so-called trolls – are increasingly using their own names, a study by the University of Zurich has revealed.
Anonymity is generally believed to be a major barrier to identifying and tracking down trolls who post abusive online comments.
However, a research project published on Monday by the University of Zurich has shown that trolls are increasingly using their full names online and that individuals posting hate speech were using their full names more often than anonymous trolls.
The team studied over 500,000 socio-political comments made on 1,600 online petitions from the German platform www.openpetition.de between 2010 and 2013.
Many online news and social media platforms are trying to prevent the use of hateful language in comments and posts, and there have been calls to encourage online debate by ending online anonymity.
The University of Zurich researchers believe many online trolls don’t bother to remain anonymous as it boosts their credibility and popularity.
They say many trolls justify their online protests as a moral duty and assume they will rarely be held accountable for their online comments. Trolls appear to mobilise other people in their social networks more easily if they use a real name, the researchers said in a statement.
“Removing anonymity therefore will not automatically lead to a disappearance of online firestorms. In fact, it might even lead to an increase,” said sociology PhD student Lea Stahel.