In internet slang, a ‘troll’ is someone who needlessly and deliberately starts arguments with strangers in order to provoke or upset them. Trolling involves blindly talking nonsense or voicing extreme judgements, in order to generate frustration and irritation, for one’s own pleasure and amusement.
Internet trolls aim at making other internet users feel uncomfortable, needlessly emotional and foolish, in order for the trolls themselves to feel superior as a result of all this. Sometimes, it is difficult to spot a troll immediately. A troll, after all, can be anyone. One could simply see a picture of a blonde buck-toothed girl, or a mousy college graduand, think that the person looked relatively unexceptional and believe that s/he is merely contributing to an online debate. Some trolls reveal themselves later on in the conversation, mainly by not being consistent, having no logical basis for their argument, or, when backed into a corner, lashing out through verbal abuse and vulgarity.
Trolls can be even much more sinister than this. Instead of your run-of-the-mill troll, out to abuse strangers and call them names, you sometimes encounter the truly nasty ones – those who deliberately aim at upsetting grieving families or victims of physical violence.
Sites such as Facebook and Twitter can usually take action against such harassment. The trolls, once reported, can be banned from having an account and posting on the site ever again.
One should be careful when identifying trolls. Posting an alternative comment, or one many disagree with, is not trolling. Trolls target individuals in order to show their dominance. They enjoy harassing someone without confronting that person face to face, because it is easy and they can get away with things scott free. This is what psychologist John Suler meant when he coined the term ‘Online disinhibition’, that is, when one abandons social norms which are usually present in one-to-one conversations, because by being online, one feels anonymous and so safe to do so, online.
Anonymity sets the stage for trolling, in that many trolls see this psychological baiting as a ‘game’ and refuse to acknowledge the stress and mental harm they are causing their victims. Three professors from the University of Canada set out to study this phenomenon. They created a series of personality surveys and tested a number of subjects, thereby arriving at the conclusion that most trolls seem to suffer from certain personality traits. Mainly, narcissism (the admiration of one’s self to the extent that one believes he can do no wrong), macchiavellism (a tendency to deceive and manipulate), psychopathy (a lack of empathy and inhibition) and sadism (taking pleasure in inflicting pain or humiliation on others).
The cyber world, unlike what trolls may think, is not a separate parallel universe. It mirrors us, as we are in real life. Therefore, internet trolls who hide behind their screens, living a life of perfect acceptance of the social system, show up online who they truly are. One could go a step further and say that by venting their frustrations online, the internet could be providing an outlet for these destructive feelings, thereby preventing these dysfunctional individuals from harming others more directly.
Many internet forums frequently sport this warning: ‘Please, don’t feed the trolls’, asking internet users not to respond to content posted merely to provoke a reaction. In the end, the only way to beat a troll, is to refuse to play his or her game. The best thing you can do is to denounce and reveal the individual as being a troll and then simply ignoring him or her. In most cases, provoking a reaction is the troll’s only aim and silence can be the best weapon against this attack.