Who are internet trolls and what do they want? Why are they always starting online fights, upsetting chat rooms, and throwing inflammatory torches wherever and whenever possible? They’re not the scary characters living under a bridge you may remember from childhood—they’re actually worse because they’re real.
According to the slang definition, an internet troll is someone who deliberately uses cyberspace to upset or offend others. Trolls may post aggressive, rude, or totally unrelated comments to an online community, chat group, or forum with the intent to provoke an emotional response, sometimes for amusement and other times with an ulterior motive. The word trolling is associated with online harassment, and at worst infiltrates a person’s social circle, spreading misinformation and causing emotional destruction.
What should you do when faced with a troll?
These malicious online pranksters are not to be confused with opinion writers, who might offend you with their obtuse and frustrating words. Trolling is often delivered in such a way that it appears indistinguishable from a genuine interaction, often dressed up in playful comments with an underlying tone that is typically alluding to insincere motives and culminating in a pit of toxic behavior. Best internet practices suggest “starving” trolls as the best form of defense, which means you should deprive them of comments, reactions, and attention as much as possible. Disempower them by taking away their control.
There’s no doubt, trolling is mostly unjustified and denotes behavior of a non-permissible nature. Some believe that starving a troll can be as provoking as feeding them, suggesting that as their hunger grows, they ramp up provocation with greater obstinacy and become more determined than ever to gain they attention they crave. Reactions vary from person to person, as some respond with anger while others try to quell the fire with kindness and open communication, and even humor. Some people might even try to reason with a troll and engage in some sort of rational conversation—but these attempts are typically futile, as trolls are hellbent on making others their victim.
Why don’t we just outlaw trolls?
Today’s social media platforms are now considered too big to moderate. Indeed, there are governing rules and regulations for user to follow, but the eradication of troll-culture on the platform is basically impossible. Community platforms are heavily relied upon—both socially and for business—and are considered to be an essential part of people’s everyday lives. They are used for engagement, interaction, promoting, educating, creating awareness, the list goes on and on.
But it’s worth questioning whether or not enough is being done to protect users from online trolls attacks and safeguard their mental wellbeing. As a nation in the midst of a digital transformation, we expect content providers and tech platforms to defend their community by presenting and upholding certain rules and standards of behavior that promotes civility rather than brutality.
There’s no easy fix to the terrorizing behavior often associated with trolling. Internet-based abuse is extremely complex, and there are many layers to understanding its intricacies. As people, we have been forced into an ‘accepting’ culture because we fear we have no alternative. So, let’s turn this on its head—maybe the question is not how to remedy the behavior of a troll, but more about how we can empower those individuals who are susceptible to victimization.
Why do trolls persist?
Psychology-based theories suggest that internet users look to fulfill online what appears to be unfulfilled for them in everyday life, so If an emotion within a troll is suppressed day to day, that emotion is more likely to surface during the online interaction—because it is their anonymously “safe” place. The internet becomes their outlet, and their online presence feels significant enough to satisfy their internalized frustration, anger, bitterness, whatever. Before the birth of the internet in 1991, it would have been TVs and radios that took the brunt of these imprisoned feelings; but cyberspace is now, without question, a more accessible space for every kind of free speech—even that which is harmful.
While Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg now positions the platform as “responsible for the content,” we are right to question this statement when part of the responsibility falls to its users to report content that is deemed inappropriate. Without Facebook admins fully governing the publishing or editing publicized content, it would be a challenge for the platform to ‘troll manage’ the 510,000 comments that are posted every 60 seconds, along with 293,000 status updates and 136,000 uploaded photos.
You can call these wrongdoers trolls, stalkers, or abusers; it matters not, as the intent to intimidate, threaten, and even harm others still sits at the core of their livelihood. So, if you’re a victim of trolling and feeling genuinely frightened, consider contacting site moderators or law enforcement authorities, both of which have established policies supporting such situations that can guide you on next steps.