Trolls are as ubiquitous as the internet, but they are often hidden behind a shield of anonymity.
But an effort to track where all the trolls live reveals much about the nature and origin of toxic comments made online.
A recent analysis — conducted by Wired and Disqus, a comment-hosting company — determined that 7.3 percent of comments made in Missouri are toxic, while 6 percent are toxic in Kansas.
That puts the two states in about the middle of the pack compared with other states.
But the study showed that even a few trolls can swing a place into a noxious realm.
Park Forest, Ill., is the most toxic city in the U.S., with 34 percent of comments considered hostile. However, just two people contribute 99 percent of all hostile comments in the city, the analysis found.
To arrive at the conclusions, Disqus and Wired rated 92 million comments over 16 months on 7,000 different forums. (Facebook and Twitter, which don’t use the software, were not included in the analysis.)
The resulting map shows the proportion of toxic comments compared with all comments made in a given state.
Software trained by humans learned to rate comments on a scale of 0 to 1.
Toxic comments were rated 0.9 or higher. Toxic was defined as “a rude, disrespectful, or unreasonable comment that is likely to make you leave a discussion.”
For example, “Liberals are devil lovers,” was considered toxic, while “Yes, the socialist Hitler. Far right-wing he was. Uh huh,” was considered mildly toxic.
Unfortunately, trolls aren’t likely to become any more pleasant, according to Daniel Ha, a co-founder of Disqus.
Ha called trolling a human rather than technological issue, and “it’s never really going to go away.”
Other findings from the analysis:
▪ Sharpsburg, Ga., is the least toxic city in the U.S.
▪ Vermont has a higher proportion of toxic comments than any other state, with 12.2 percent of all comments deemed hostile.
▪ New Hampshire has the lowest proportion (4.7 percent) of toxic comments.
▪ One-quarter of all people posted at least one toxic comment during the study period.
▪ The trolls come out at night. The most toxic time is 3 a.m., when 11 percent of all comments are hostile around the country.