Internet troll 网络巨魔

2021.04.27

Reader question:

Please explain “internet troll”.

My comments:

An internet troll is a person who provokes and upsets others online for no good reason. They are rude – they use a lot of foul language.

If you’ve logged on to any political or sports forum or, in fact, just any comment section of any website, you’ve probably run into one of such trolls. They seem to be everywhere.

The word troll has bad connotations. In Scandinavian folklore, a troll is an ugly cave-dwelling monster that is up to no good. So you can infer that internet trolls are up to no good either.

Unlike fishermen who troll rivers and seas for fish, online bullies troll the internet for victims. Even if they don’t find a real victim, internet trolls will just lash out – at anything. They seem to be angry all the time – at everyone and at everything. They make random, unsolicited comments and usually controversial comments at that. And they are always ready to engage in a fight.

If an internet forum expels some user for repeated use of foul language, for example, that user is probably a troll.

And he’s not alone. There are legions of them everywhere. And they seem to be online all the time. And for one reason or another, they don’t seem to have anything better to do, nor do they have anything better to say.

Well, again, if you frequent chat rooms and read comment sections, you’ve probably met them.

And here are media examples of internet trolls and trolling, which is what they do:

1. Internet trolling: At best, it’s a tongue-in-cheek way of expressing disagreement. At worst, it’s a way to break down someone’s online identity through the use of graphic insults and threats. If we’re not feeling psychologically strong, how can we protect ourselves when online?

What is internet trolling?

Trolling can cover many different areas of communication such as subversive humour, sustained campaigns and personal attacks. While some forms of trolling are designed to make clever statements about topical issues (for example, political debates) other forms can be much more harmful on a personal level.

Being personally attacked by a troll means being insulted, degraded or otherwise disrespected for the things you post online. Sometimes this kind of trolling is known as online harassment or cyber-bullying. Although cyber-bullying is reported to be more prevalent among young people, anyone can be the victim of internet trolling.

How to protect your mental health when dealing with trolls

* ‘Don’t feed the trolls’ is a popular phrase used online. Meaning ‘ignore them and they’ll go away’, it might be worth paying heed to this phrase when confronted with a situation you don’t need to be a part of. If you’re involved in a heated discussion with someone who appears deliberately antagonistic, can you let it go? What would be the consequences of walking away?

* Many websites and social media platforms have options for reporting abusive behaviour. It’s OK to use these or to report serious attacks to the police if necessary.

* Accept how you feel. It’s not nice being trolled and it’s understandable to feel angry or upset. Putting pressure on yourself to shrug off unpleasant comments may make you feel worse in the long run. Once you’ve accepted what’s happened, it’ll be easier to put the incident out of your mind because it’s not worthy of your attention any longer.

* Many trolls are trying to get a reaction because they are unhappy. It doesn’t excuse their behaviour, but it may help you to see that their comments are more about themselves than they are about you.

*If you have a blog, Facebook page or other public space to share your thoughts, you can use privacy controls to help you choose who can and can’t see your content. You can also switch off comment options and make it so that only certain people can send you messages.
Have you or someone you know, been subject to trolling or cyber-bullying? If so, how did you manage it?

- Internet Trolling: How to Protect Your Mental Health Online, HarleyTherapy.co.uk, August 28, 2013.

2. In this month’s issue of Personality and Individual Differences, a study was published that confirms what we all suspected: Internet trolls are horrible people.

Let’s start by getting our definitions straight: An Internet troll is someone who comes into a discussion and posts comments designed to upset or disrupt the conversation. Often, in fact, it seems like there is no real purpose behind their comments except to upset everyone else involved. Trolls will lie, exaggerate, and offend to get a response.

What kind of person would do this? Some Canadian researchers decided to find out.

They conducted two online studies with over 1,200 people, giving personality tests to each subject along with a survey about their Internet commenting behavior. They were looking for evidence that linked trolling with the “Dark Tetrad” of personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism.

They found that Dark Tetrad scores were highest among people who said trolling was their favorite Internet activity. To get an idea of how much more prevalent these traits were among Internet trolls, one can refer to tables from the paper showing low Dark Tetrad scores for everyone in the study . . . except the trolls. Their scores for all four traits soar on the chart. The relationship between trolling and the Dark Tetrad is so significant that the authors write in their paper:

“... the associations between sadism and GAIT (Global Assessment of Internet Trolling) scores were so strong that it might be said that online trolls are prototypical everyday sadists.”

Trolls truly enjoy making you feel bad. To quote the authors once more (because this is a truly quotable article): “Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others. Sadists just want to have fun. . . and the Internet is their playground!”

The next time you encounter a troll online, remember:

These trolls are some truly difficult people.

It is your suffering that brings them pleasure, so the best thing you can do is ignore them.

- Internet Trolls Are Narcissists, Psychopaths, and Sadists, PsychologyToday.com, September 18, 2014.

3. If you haven’t read Seattle-based writer Lindy West’s essay in The Guardian about tracking down the man who appropriated her late father's identity in order to harass her online, I recommend taking a few minutes to do so.

The truncated version is this: West is a feminist whose gorgeous, witty essays inspire all sorts of bile — death threats, rape threats, “No one would want to rape that fat, disgusting mess” venom. When one detractor posed as West’s dead father on Twitter to troll her, West wrote about the experience.

In a surprise twist, the man emailed her an apology.

With the help of “This American Life” radio producers, West found the guy and talked to him by phone. He was in a bad place, he said. He has changed his ways, he said. He was really sorry, he said.

I’ll stop short of calling this a happy ending. Mostly because nothing has ended — thousands of trolls will fill the space this one man’s voice no longer fills, like polluted water finding its own toxic level.

But the ending is hardly the point. West’s story pulls back the curtain on what is likely the life of a typical troll, a life filled with self-loathing and anger, where purpose and humanity ought to be.

What I find even more instructive in West’s essay, though, is the degree to which she’s been told the hate is par for the course.

“I’m a writer and a woman and a feminist, and I write about … things that make people uncomfortable,” she writes. “And because I choose to do that as a career, I’m told, a constant barrage of abuse is just part of my job. Shrug. Nothing we can do. I’m asking for it, apparently.”

This is where we’ve landed. We're so accustomed to humans spewing this junk at each other that we’re practically rolling our eyes at the victims.

Last week I wrote about a Christian blogger whose viral post about leggings inspired an onslaught of hate mail, name calling and offers of sexual favors to her husband.

“Since she put her views out for public consumption, she should expect that readers will share their own views in return,” a reader emailed me Sunday. “I’m not advocating name-calling or threats, but she’s opened herself up to both approval and ridicule, as are all of us who publicly state our opinions.”

“When you choose to write a public column or blog about your choices, just don’t be surprised that you get a response,” another reader posted to my Facebook page after reading the leggings column.

I wholeheartedly reject this notion.

If I hop in my car to run errands, should I expect to be killed by a reckless driver? By venturing onto the roads, I’ve increased my odds of injury. But is that the same as inviting it?

- Sharing your story doesn’t justify online hatred, ChicagoTribune.com, February 9, 2015.

本文仅代表作者本人观点,与本网立场无关。欢迎大家讨论学术问题,尊重他人,禁止人身攻击和发布一切违反国家现行法律法规的内容。

About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)


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