There’s a lot I don’t understand. How humans can be so cruel to each other. Why anyone would believe that their rights trump those of everyone else. How the Kardashians are such an entertainment juggernaut (who watches this stuff?).
But I think one thing above all confounds me: trolling on the Internet.
As I wrote in a Facebook post last week: “Why troll? I mean, really, why? I’m not talking about the mostly lighthearted ‘trolling’ some might engage in to prank someone, but the mean-spirited (and often political) jackholery we see so much of. We all post memes at least once in a while, but some people seem to delight far too much in posting ones they know will provoke a response and ensure they get to (not ‘have to,’ but ‘get to’) argue with anyone who dares to disagree.”
I would remind you here, since generally people who are referred to as trolls tend to call anyone who disagrees a troll (wow, that’s not only not self-aware, but incredibly childish; “I know you are, but what am I?”), of the essential definition of an Internet troll, according to Merriam-Webster: “a person who intentionally antagonizes others online by posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive content.”
Evita March, a senior psychology lecturer in Australia, wrote on The Conversation last September: “In scientific literature, Internet trolling is defined as a malicious online behavior, characterized by aggressive and deliberate provocation of others. ‘Trolls’ seek to provoke, upset and harm others via inflammatory messages and posts.”
Malicious intention and aggression (not to mention attention-seeking) are huge red flags that apply to an awful lot of people I’ve encountered on comment boards, Facebook, Twitter, and the like. The intent for some may be to amuse and entertain (like The Onion), but what so many of us see is darker. I have a pretty dark sense of humor, but the bulk of what I’ve seen posted by trolls “as a joke” was malicious, based on putting down groups or people they don’t like.
Such malevolent trolling can have a significant impact on its victims, leading not only to sleep disruptions, lower self-esteem, and self-harm, but suicide as well, says March.
There are several types of trolls, including those who do it out of boredom, or to amuse themselves, and in most cases aren’t much to worry about (they’re more annoying than dangerous). In March’s studies, “Results showed that gender, psychopathy, and sadism were all significant independent predictors of malevolent trolling. That is, if you are male, have high psychopathy, or high sadism, you are more likely to troll. The most powerful predictor of trolling was sadism. The more someone enjoys hurting others, the more likely it is they will troll.”
Strangely, she found that low self-esteem was not an independent predictor of trolling. “However, we found self-esteem interacts with sadism. So, if a person had high levels of sadism and high self-esteem, they were more likely to troll. This result was unexpected because low self-esteem has predicted other antisocial online behavior, such as cyberbullying.”
I’m going to venture to say that malevolent trolls and cyberbullies are not necessarily mutually exclusive. I’ve seen plenty of comment board trolls who took it upon themselves to dox those with whom they disagreed, which certainly veers into cyberbully territory, and I’ve seen quite a few people with obvious low self-esteem trolling. Anecdotal, I know, but never let it be said that something like that isn’t possible.
I’ve fought my own battles against trolls, and have sometimes unwisely ignored the warning, “Don’t feed the trolls.” On my own blog (this one right here) I don’t really have that problem since I have to approve comments by new commenters, and I’ve yet to rescind permission. One wannabe troll never reappeared after I approved his comment then answered with a full transcript of the radio-show segment featuring the quote in question in context (I think it was one of those Obama socialism quotes taken out of context from when he was a law professor).
How dare I answer with facts and expect him to read them! The nerve!
Just this weekend, though, I finally pulled the plug on a Facebook friend from high school, and I have to say, it was a relief. He was never really a friend of mine, so I’m not sure why I accepted his friend request in the first place. Blocking him wasn’t filled with the grief that accompanied an actual high school friend’s blocking of me a few weeks ago after a post in which I urged the unvaccinated to get the covid vaccine shots. I still hope to speak to her again.
When I posed my question about trolling, I was hoping for an answer from him, but he ignored it, spending his time on other posts trolling me and my oldest brother. When I decided to troll him back on a couple of especially egregious posts (yes, I’m sorry), I didn’t get any satisfaction from it, and it too ended up feeding the troll.
Obviously I wouldn’t be a good troll, and yeah, don’t do that. Many experts will tell you the best thing you can do is to ignore trolls.
In one of the last messages from him before he was blocked (after he got more and more aggressive not just with me, but others commenting on a post about “snoozing” people), he said what so many before him have said: “If memes upset you, just scroll.”
As I wrote in the previous post on trolls, “Yes, we can scroll on by, but some of us feel compelled, when misinformation is rife, especially as regards covid-19, to correct that misinformation. Of course, some scoff at that, claiming that ‘fact-checkers’ can’t be trusted. How about reality? Can the reality that the bulk of us inhabit be trusted, or must it all be viewed through an ideological lens? When no amount of primary-source documentation will sway someone, what are those of us committed to facts to do, other than get more frustrated?
“Can we just agree that we can’t continue as we have been, living in separate realities according to our political preferences, and deriding automatically anyone who doesn’t fit our ideological construct? Can we stop assuming everyone who disagrees with you is a ‘libtard’ or ‘rethuglicon’? Can we understand that a single person can hold beliefs that span the ideological spectrum?
“I won’t ask why can’t we just get along, but I will ask this: Can we just not be jerks to each other?”
What my former friend seems to believe is that everyone must happily accept bad behavior. Sure, it will always be with us, but in the real world (and the cyber world), there are rules: Certain behaviors are crimes and thus outlawed; traffic laws and other rules are there for public safety; and private businesses such as Internet platforms can discipline or ban people who violate the terms of service, etc.
What got my former friend tossed is exactly the sort of thing I was taught wasn’t acceptable when I was a kid, as I’m sure most of us were taught. That’s changed in recent years, with anyone who protests or disagrees being labeled a “snowflake,” being called hysterical and/or upset when all you did was mention relevant facts, and harassed mercilessly. Most of us, I still believe, don’t want to be dragged to that level.
I discussed the state of things with another friend (actual) from high school, the daughter of two of my favorite teachers, and we arrived at the conclusion that it seems to be a combination of people being nastier, and then feeling it’s OK to display their real, uncivil selves on social media. I am who I appear to be on social media, and so, unfortunately, are a lot of other people. Remember what Maya Angelou said: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” If I behaved as many of these people do, I wouldn’t be able to look at myself in the mirror.
And if my mom were still alive, the back of my head would still be stinging.
I told that former friend who had indeed revealed his true self, after he repeatedly harangued me and anyone agreeing with me: “It’s called taking control of your mental health. It’s much better to cut yourself off from misinformation, disinformation and negative attitudes than to lower yourself to the level of people who can only rag on everyone they disagree with because they have nothing positive to say.”
Civil discussion is to be encouraged; trolling and bullying is not.
So sorry that I’m still wedded to the idea of civil society and that my mental health is more important than someone getting to abuse me for giggles.
Wait, no, I’m not sorry. And I’m definitely not sorry for standing up for myself.
I can’t leave today without wishing a very happy birthday to my third mom, wonderful mentor, and even better friend, Mary Hargrove. Her compassion, brilliance, perseverance and sense of humor inspire me still. If you happen to be in Bixby, Okla., today, wish her a happy birthday! Love you, Mary!