Trolling today has reached a Satanic art form. The entire internet is teeming with trolls. You just can’t escape them without being off the grid. So, it’s better you learn fast how to handle them.
What Is Trolling?
Trolling is what trolls do. And trolls are of two kinds. It’s the second type of trolling we want to understand.
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.
2. Internet Troll
While many of us wouldn’t attach that above definition to an internet troll, as this latter breed lives among us, within our society. Nevertheless, it wields a similarly vicious, disruptive power as the fabled trolls.
Trolling is when a person antagonizes and torments you brutally on the internet, even when you back your arguments with scientific facts, to create an inflammatory ruckus that tries to do two things: 1. Push you down into a pit of excrement, 2. Pull him up into a spot of attention.
They usually lurk in the comments section of your social media posts, spewing venom. From their seemingly overbearing position, they rattle your cage so loud that others take note, and then arouse them to join in bringing you down.
Trolling isn’t about arguing your points. The trolls are more against you than the spirit of your argument. Their guns are cultured to shoot the messenger, not the message.
James Hanson writes:
Basically, a social media troll is someone who purposely says something controversial in order to get a rise out of other users.
Origins of Internet Trolling
If you’re someone who lives and breathes on social media, you must have come under the axe of a troll in one form or other. Most of them are residents of Facebook, though YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter harbor no less of them. They made their debut around 40 years back.
Freelance journalist Mattathias Schwartz informs,
In the late 1980s, internet users adopted the word “troll” to denote someone who intentionally disrupts online communities.
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 didn’t agree.
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 attempted suicide after battling a horde of Twitter trolls.
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.
Why Does Trolling Happen
Why do the trolls do the trolling? Are they criminals and psychopaths in their offline lives?
Surprisingly, the internet trolls are often normal persons in real life. In many cases, some of the most vicious trolls have been unmasked to be ordinary people living simple lives outside the internet.
But why do these simple people become villains when online? Two of the commonest reasons people troll online are:
- personality disorder
- shield of anonymity
1. Personality Disorder
Most of them have their origin story rooted in a personality disorder. Their very different online avatars might arise from a backstory of oppression, depression, lack of attention, anger, jealousy, envy, narcissism, or some other emotion they themselves 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 to NYT, some of those interviewed laid the claim they did trolling because they wanted to teach people a lesson about the harshness of the online world, while others said their actions were a result of their difficult and troubled past lives.
2. Shield of Anonymity
For most of them, it’s not an one-off event. Everywhere they roam online, they take their habit along. Almost all trolls are repeat offenders. You can be pretty sure if they trolled once, they’ll do it again, and again.
They don’t change because they know they won’t be marked out in person after hurling an insult from behind the safe space of their screens. They are sure they live behind an impenetrable shield of anonymity.
Their trolling comes from a certain conviction they will walk scot-free in the real world after maligning anyone in the virtual world.
Two Wishy-Washy Ways To Handle Internet Trolling
1. Report Them Up
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, or even doesn’t bother.
You could report to Facebook or Twitter also. That, though effective sometimes, takes days to reach any resolution. By then, the storm would have died down, and the damage already done.
2. Reply With Humor
This is dicey, at best. You may be able to defuse them with a hilarious or even mildly humorous comment. You might even thank them to be part of the discussion and 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 wouldn’t make sure they are any milder towards their next victim.
The Most Effective, The Best, And The Only Right Way To Handle The Online Trolls
Don’t Indulge Them.
That is the best, the most effective, and the only right way to respond to trolls. Most social media veterans swear by this strategy. Let’s repeat it in two more ways so you remember:
Don’t feed the trolls. Don’t ever give way to them.
Trolls are mostly unknown persons. They desperately seek the spotlight. And there’s nothing they hate more than having the attention stolen from them. Ignore them, and they suffocate to their deaths.
However, if you engage them, even with the best of your intentions and the kindest of your words, they get their lifeblood. Once you do that, their vitriolic self comes alive in a truly demonic shape.
They attack you, your family, your relationships, your past, your race, your beliefs, your credentials, your education, your intellect, your nature, and even your very existence. This last part sometimes takes the form of a gruesome provocation repeated over and over, “Why don’t you kill yourself?”
That’s the most evil aggravation to be thrown at a depressed person. Amanda Todd and Charlotte Dawson were two known early victims of this kind of abominable trolling.
The best way is to never give them that chance is to never indulge them. Leave them to their state. As soon as you stop paying attention, the fire starts to peter out.
Getting into a long thread of argument with a troll is a self-defeating idea. They get what they wanted in the first place – public attention. But it’s you whose professional and personal brand gets tarnished.
Do not try to play their game. Do not step into the boxing arena they set up for you. You’ll most probably lose in a bad way because they will hit you below the belt, while you will not.
Do not climb down that rabbit hole and become the most conspicuous part of the whole fiasco. If you do, that’s when the worst thing starts to unfold.
When you start to play equally dirty as them, replying with equal toxicity and rage, you gift them extra boosts of life. Remember, what happens next is under the watchful eyes of your fans and followers.
Suddenly they change tracks and point out you’re the vile offender they ‘knew you were’ from the beginning. They become their loudest trying to prove to others what a bad person you are, and always were, by quoting you and even attaching screenshots of your comments.
Congratulations! You’re the troll now. You got your pound of flesh, but now everyone sees blood on your hands. Only your hands, not theirs. They are the victims now, as the public sees.
And you’re left aghast, wondering how on earth did it come down to this? How could you let yourself stoop to their level?
So, stand a strict guard long before you reach this stage. Remain calm and civil at all times. If they get your goose, the least harm they would do is make joke out of you. From then on, the community will hold you as someone whose buttons can be easily pushed by a random stranger.
Do not take the smallest step to indulge them – no matter how much you’re tempted to.
Take the high road, and let those of their first troll-words baiting you roll off your back.
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.
If it’s your timeline they’re trolling on, delete the offensive comment before it flares up. Even delete their identity from showing up on your timeline. Unfriend them, block them.
And if you can’t do any of those as it could be someone else’s group or your company’s page, then delete your original post. This strike always works – it quietly steals the carpet from under their feet.
Then go mind your other businesses.
People troll because they think they have the power. By trolling, they feel they’ve taken over the controls of the conversation. They troll because they can.
However, when you ignore them, you tell them without actually telling them:
No, you can’t. I have taken away your spotlight and snatched away your victory medal.
And the troll slinks back to its hole.
• • •
Author Bio: Sandip Roy is psychology writer, happiness researcher, and medical doctor. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. He writes popular-science articles on positive psychology and related topics.
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