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What’s in a Username?

On the internet, a username is often an unchangeable name that you choose to present yourself to the world. What you choose can say a lot about yourself. Maybe you choose to name yourself after a band you really like, or a franchise you enjoy. On social media, a username is typically used instead of a personal name, and I’m sure we have all seen some interesting username choices that we end up remembering all too well. According to research, a username can actually tell you a bit about a person, in particular their likelihood of being toxic. Urbaniak et al used algorithmic detection on the social media site Reddit and investigated the question of whether username toxicity is a useful predictor in online profiling. The sample used two large data streams with 329k Reddit users.

Defining Toxicity in Usernames

  • Offensive – contains words or phrases that are generally recognized as racist, homophobic, or overly nationalistic.

  • Profanity – contains words or phrases generally recognized as profane, typically in the form of curse words.

  • Sexual – words or phrases referring to sexual acts, sexual activities, or intimate body parts.

  • Inappropriate – words or phrases that refer to controversial topics that lack the vulgar component.

Types of Online Toxicity

  • Personal Attack – an intentionally rude comment made to another user with the intent to abuse or demean them.

  • Sexual Harassment – a sexual related comment with the intent to violate another user’s dignity or to humiliate them.

  • Threat – a comment made towards another user with the intent or wish to cause harm or misfortune upon them.

  • Rejection – a comment made towards another user with the intent to exclude them from interacting with others.

  • Profanity – a comment made that contains words or phrases generally recognized as vulgar or offensive. This category can be broad.

  • Sexual Remark – A comment that includes words or phrases that are linked with sex or sexuality. This category can be broad.

Key Findings

  • Around 3% of users have usernames considered toxic.

  • 14% of content found is considered toxic.

  • Users with toxic usernames produced more toxic comments compared to those with neutral usernames.

  • Given a user with a toxic username comments 20/50/100 times a week, they are predicted to create 4k/10k/20k more toxic comments compared to their equally active neutral named users.

  • Active users with a username considered sexual or include profanity created 50% more toxic content weekly compared to users with neutral usernames.

  • Users with profane usernames generate the most profanity, personal attacks and rejections.

  • Users with sexual usernames generated the most sexual harassment and sexual remarks.

  • Overall a moderately active user with a toxic username is expected to create 38% more toxic comments in a year, and a highly active user is expected to create 37% more toxic comments than their respective neutral counterparts.

So to answer the age old question: what’s in a name? Well it turns out a name is a good indication of how likely a person is to be toxic. As an avid redditor myself, these results did not come as a shock to me. I had always known Reddit to be a toxic place depending on the subreddit you are on. However, after writing this, I will pay more attention to peoples’ usernames, which is typically something I would disregard completely.


Urbaniak, Tempska, P., Dowgiałło, M., Ptaszyński, M., Fortuna, M., Marcińczuk, M., Piesiewicz, J., Leliwa, G., Soliwoda, K., Dziublewska, I., Sulzhytskaya, N., Karnicka, A., Skrzek, P., Karbowska, P., Brochocki, M., & Wroczyński, M. (2022). Namespotting: Username toxicity and actual toxic behavior on Reddit. Computers in Human Behavior, 136.

Jordan See, Writer

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