The lamestream media missed a very funny economics story

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© Obviously fake tweet

The US media’s addiction to culture warring has sucked all of the fun out of some extremely funny news: A bunch of economists thought for years that they were commenting anonymously online. They were not all that anonymous online.

This fact was brought to light in a Thursday presentation from Florian Ederer, Paul Goldsmith-Pinkham and Kyle Jensen, at the National Bureau of Economic Research’s Summer Institute.

Their presentation is ostensibly about how people behave when they are anonymous. But there aren’t many interesting or new things to say about that. The answer is that they act like real dicks.

The researchers used an off-the-shelf large language model to classify “toxic speech”, Ederer told Alphaville, adding that he thought the LLM used a fairly high bar for that designation.

But the researchers’ real dunks are elsewhere in the presentation, when they figure out how to identify the IP addresses of commenters with only public data.

As it turns out, the posts are assigned specific usernames based on an encrypted combination of the topic ID and the user’s IP address. This combination wasn’t salted, however, which isn’t great news for the most prolific EJMR commenters:

Lots of funny analysis comes from this. First, commenters using Harvard University IPs like to talk about Harvard. But they like to talk about MIT more:

At least the University of Chicago has some self respect.

The commenters are an even mix of top economics departments and non-top-25 economics departments, and even the Federal Reserve Board is in the mix:

This one-two punch also caught the eye:

And then this:

The slides above were excluded from the official presentation on NBER’s site, but included in a version that leaked early on social media. We decided to publish it because the IP address is more than 12 years old and too dated to be useful. Also because it is very funny.

We wish we could say the $1mn dare was the inspiration for the researchers’ presentation, but sadly it was not, Ederer said.

For more detail you can look at the full official version of their presentation.