The entire internet is teeming with trolls. You cannot escape them without being off the grid.
Internet trolling is more than a simple unprovoked attack on others. It is a dangerous form of online antisocial behavior, and its victims often suffer from depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Learn how to deal with them.
What Is An Internet Troll (Definition)?
An internet troll is someone who antagonizes and torments a targeted person over the internet, even if the victim’s arguments are supported by facts. The troll creates an inflammatory ruckus to 1. disrepute the target, and 2. draw attention to themselves.
According to Hardaker, 2010, trolling is the deliberate provocation of others using deception and harmful behavior on the Internet which often results in conflict, highly emotional reactions, and disruption of communication in order to advance the troll’s own amusement.
How To Deal With Internet Trolls
1. Report The Troll To A Higher Authority
You can report them to the group or page administrator if on Facebook. For Twitter and others, you could send a direct message to the person who started the conversation or thread. These might or might not work, as the admin or original poster may be too busy to notice. They may not even bother.
You could also report to Facebook or Twitter. That, though effective at times, can take days to reach any resolution. The storm would have passed by then, with the harm done.
2. Respond To The Troll With Humor
This strategy is dicey, at best. It might or might not work, and you cannot be sure which way it goes.
You may be able to defuse the trolls with a hilarious or even mildly humorous comment. You might even thank them for being a part of the discussion and the community while asking them to be polite. But none of those tactics are ever a guarantee.
You might also try laughing off their comments. But that would not make sure they are any milder towards their next victim.
3. Troll Back The Troll
Interestingly, trolls are also calibrated by users for their degree of success both in relation to the quality of the trolling, and how others
respond to the troll.
One way to bring down a troll is to launch a counterattack by the group. This “trolling the troll” can criticize their low-quality and failed attempts, and take the form of comments as:
- Folks, this is a newbie troll; don’t feed him.
- The worst troll we have seen in a long time.
- He needs a lot of practice at his trolling. Right now, it’s not good.
- In the history of the trolls we have had here, he is the least entertaining.
- Haven’t we used all the troll food yet? He’s really dumb, no matter what he says.
This strategy has a precondition: it must come from the entire group or at least a sub-group within the group. It does not work very successfully when a single person, usually the marked victim, mocks the troll.
4. Ignore The Internet Troll (#1 Effective Strategy)
The expert strategy we are talking about comes from Angela Saini, a British science journalist who has authored three books. Her book, Superior: The Return of Race Science, was published in 2019 to widespread critical acclaim and named a book of the year by the Financial Times, Nature, The Telegraph, and Sunday Times.
Her previous book, Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong, has been translated into thirteen languages. Both are on university reading lists across the world. She is currently working on her fourth book, on the origins of patriarchy, to be published in early 2023.
The internet creates monsters out of nobodies by harvesting eyeballs, clicks, likes, and retweets. All you have to do to win is ignore them. Never engage with racists or sexists because attention is their oxygen. Instead, amplify those who do good work.
Her advice can be distilled into 3 words:
This action is the best and the most effective one of all. Most veterans who have handled online trolls for years say it is the only correct way to respond to trolls.
Let us repeat it, so you remember: Do not indulge a troll. A troll who gets no response has failed.
How To Ignore The Online Troll
Trolls should be ignored, not engaged in conversation. Here are 4 specific ways you can ignore the internet troll:
1. Do not let them grab the spotlight.
Trolls are mostly unknown persons who desperately seek the spotlight.
There is nothing they hate more than having the attention stolen from them. Ignore them, and you suffocate their sinister plans to death.
However, engaging them, even with your best intentions and the kindest words, their plans get lifeblood. Once you do that, their vitriolic selves come alive in truly demonic shapes.
Now they attack you, your family, your relationships. They come at your past, your race, your beliefs, your credentials. Your education, your intellect, your nature, and even your very existence become their dartboards.
This last part sometimes takes the form of a gruesome provocation repeated over and over, “Why don’t you kill yourself?”
Trolling became a flagrant part of the internet lingo when in 2014, a sixteen-year-old Amanda Todd took her life after years of online bullying. The same year, Charlotte Dawson, a television celebrity, attempted suicide after battling a horde of Twitter trolls.
2. Do not get into an argument with them.
Getting into a long thread of argument with a troll is a self-defeating idea.
The trolls get what they wanted in the first place – public attention. But it is you whose professional and personal brand gets tarnished.
So, do not play their game. Do not step into the virtual fighting arena set up for you. You would most probably lose in a humiliating way because they have a long experience of hitting below the belt.
The best way is to let them never have that chance. Never indulge them. Leave them to their pitiful state. As soon as you stop paying attention, the fire starts to peter out.
Do not climb down that rabbit hole and become the most conspicuous part of the entire fiasco. If you do, that is when the worst thing starts to unfold.
Each time you play equally dirty as them, replying with the same toxicity and rage, you gift them an extra boost of life. Remember, what happens next is under the watchful eyes of your fans and followers.
Suddenly they change tracks and point out you are the vile offender they “knew you were from the beginning.” They become their loudest, trying to prove to others what a mean person you are, and always were, by quoting you and even attaching screenshots of your comments.
Congratulations! You are the troll now. You got your pound of flesh, but now everyone sees blood on your hands. Your hands, not theirs. They are the victims now, as the public sees.
You are the fish out of the water now, wondering how on earth did it come down to this? How could you let yourself stoop to their level? How could you let yourself stoop to their level?
So, stand a strict guard long before you reach this stage.
3. Do not respond with angry comments.
Remain calm and civil at all times. Do not lose your temper.
If they get your goose, the least harm they would do is make a joke out of you. Even with that, the community could hold you as someone whose buttons any random stranger might push at will.
Do not take the tiniest step to indulge them—no matter how much they tempt you.
Take the high road and let those of their first troll-words baiting you roll off your back.
If it is your timeline they are trolling on, delete the offensive comment before it flares up. Unfriend and block that person from your timeline. Delete their identities from your social media.
And if you cannot do any of those because it is a group or page where you are not the admin or the moderator, delete your original post. This strike always works—it quietly steals the carpet from under their feet.
Then go out mind your other businesses.
Origins of Internet Trolls
The internet trolls made their debut in the 1980s. In its earliest days, trolling was synonymous with “flaming,” in which a forum user would start a scathing personal attack against another just because they did not agree with a post or a comment.
If you are someone who lives and breathes on social media, you must have come under the ax of a troll in one form or another. Most of them are residents of Facebook, though YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter harbor no less of them.
Freelance journalist Mattathias Schwartz informs,
In the late 1980s, internet users adopted the word “troll” to denote someone who intentionally disrupts online communities.
In this 2014 paper, the journalist and troll researcher Jonathan Bishop wrote:
The term trolling has essentially gone from meaning provoking others for mutual enjoyment to meaning abusing others for only one’s own enjoyment.
Trolling is what trolls do, and trolls are of two kinds:
1. Folklore Troll
The definition of a folklore troll, as Cambridge Dictionary says, is “an imaginary, either very large or very small creature in traditional Scandinavian stories, that has magical powers and lives in mountains or caves.” Another name for them is an elf (plural: elves).
2. Internet Troll
Internet trolls are people who usually lurk in the comments section of social media posts, and make derogatory remarks. From their seemingly overbearing position, they intend is to inflame people and instigate their negative emotions.
Many of us would like to attach the definition of a folklore troll to an internet troll as well. Sadly, these latter trolls live among us and often cause harm to our society.
They rattle your cage so loud that others take note and then arouse them to join in bringing you down.
Trolling is not about arguing your points. The trolls are more against you than the spirit of your argument.The trolls aim their guns to shoot the messenger, never the message. You are their target, not your argument. Click To Tweet
According to James Hanson:
Basically, a social media troll is someone who purposely says something controversial in order to get a rise out of other users.
Psychology of Internet Trolls: Are Trolls Psychopaths?
By now, we know that trolling is an attention-seeking disruptive behavior. Okay, but are they criminals and psychopaths in the real world too?
Surprisingly, internet trolls are often regular persons in real life. In many cases, some of the most vicious trolls have on unmasking turned out to be ordinary people living simple lives outside the internet.
But why do these simple people become villains when online? Two of the most common reasons people troll online are:
- personality disorder
- shield of anonymity
1. Personality Disorder
Most internet trolls have their origin story rooted in a personality disorder. The starkly different online avatars often arise from a backstory of oppression, depression, lack of attention, anger, jealousy, envy, narcissism or some other emotion they might not be fully aware of that influences their trolling persona.
A personality disorder is not the foreign presence of demonic possession or a cancerous cluster of cells spreading among the internal organs. It is a pattern of cognition and reaction that impairs the capacity to be productive, happy, and generally at ease. ― Merri Lisa Johnson
However, if you ask them, they have some bizarre explanations for their behavior.
In an interview with NYT, some trolls claimed they wanted to teach people a lesson about the harshness of the online world, while others said their actions resulted from their grueling and troubled past lives.
A study found internet trolls are likely to be psychopaths and sadists.
The study also found the trolls are high on cognitive empathy.
The researchers wrote, “trolls employ an empathic strategy of predicting and recognizing the emotional suffering of their victims, while abstaining from the experience of these negative emotions. Thus, trolls appear to be master manipulators of both cyber-settings and their victims’ emotions.”
Earlier studies have found there is a negative relationship between affective empathy and trolling, and trolls may not experience or internalize the emotional experience of their victims.
- Cognitive empathy is the ability to recognize and understand another’s emotions (Mitsopoulou & Giovazolias, 2015).
- Affective empathy is the ability to experience, internalize, and respond to the emotions of others (Baron-Cohen & Wheelwright, 2004).
2. Shield of Anonymity
For most of them, it is not a one-off event. Trolls take their habit with them anywhere they roam online. Almost all trolls are repeat offenders. You can be pretty sure if they trolled once, they would do it again and again.
They do not change because they know they cannot get marked out in person. They feel safe after hurling an insult from behind their screens. They are sure they live behind an impenetrable shield of anonymity.
Their trolling comes from a conviction that if they disparage somebody in the virtual world, they will walk scot-free in the real world.
Trolls believe they can grab control of the conversation because they have the authority to do so. They troll because they think they can take down your honor. To counter a troll, you only need to ignore them.
When you ignore them, you tell them without actually telling them:
No, you do not have control here. I have taken away your spotlight. You can slither back to your dark hole now.
And the troll does just that.
Narcissists are people who love themselves too much. More accurately, they are in love with a fantastical, grandiose, godlike version of themselves. Find out how could you spot a narcissist.
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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, happiness researcher. Founder of Happiness India Project, chief editor of its blog. Writes popular science articles on happiness, positive psychology, and related topics.
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