The Interwebs: a reflection of a sad, sick world?

It has been said by many, myself included, that blogs, pseudoblogs and other Internet discussion forums bring out the worst in people. That is, in an environment inhabited by vicious trolls with silly monikers, in which no-one knows you’re a dog, there is a tendency to unleash one’s inner wanker. The rest is good business for egotistical professional writers and their publishers.

No so, it seems, going by the results of some fascinating systems analysis research published today in Nature Scientific Reports. According to Zürich-based computational physicist Antonios Garas and his colleagues, online discussion is no different from other forms of communication. Detailed quantitative analysis of some 2.5 million forum posts from more than 20,000 users in 20 Internet Relay Chat channels, covering a wide range of topics from music and sport to politics, shows that users tend to follow social norms. Interweb chatters are found to be persistent in expressing positive or negative emotions, and there is a reluctance to provoke confrontation.

The authors do not discuss the origins of the patterns of emotional persistence found in forum contributors and topics discussed, but their agent-based model of emotional interaction can, they say, be used to test hypotheses concerning the interaction of agents against their outcome on a systemic level. This could in turn reveal the rules underlying the online behaviour of individuals who are otherwise hard to access.

Further reading

Garas et al., “Emotional persistence in online chatting communities”, Nature Scientific Reports 2:402 (2012)