Here’s something that’s been on my mind for a while, yet I’ve been carefully observing and researching the subject, before deciding that I would share my final opinion on the matter. The following is a bit long and it deals with a lot of my own personal experiences with online trolls, so feel free to disregard the parts that you don’t agree with. ^_^v
Trigger Warning: This article includes graphic situations of harassment and online bullying.
To me, the internet is not just a place to watch funny videos, gain useful information, or to find cheat codes for a game. It’s a very complex social community, full of real people with real emotions, real experiences, and real lives. The only difference between an online community and an offline one, is the level of anonymity.
For example: My online self is often unseen, I don’t have to share a photo of myself (which I normally don’t), therefore most people are unaware of how tall I am, my weight, the color of my eyes, the texture of my hair, my race, my gender, my overall clothing style, and so on, unless I give those specific details. Even so, there must be a level of trust given that I am telling the truth.
I make it clear that I am a woman, have dyed blonde hair, and I’m a bit chubby… Although, I like the term “fluffy” better. I could be lying about those details and maybe I’m a skinny male, with dark spiky hair. I can also claim that I’m an astrophysicist, instead of a struggling writer, no one would be able to tell the difference. ^w^
Giggling aside, my point is that on the internet people can be whatever they wish to and choose only to show their best traits. Even though there is a very low chance (although not impossible) of others learning a person’s true traits, appearances, or careers. It’s harder to hide these details in a community offline, being that I could never pass for a skinny male astrophysicist with dark spiky hair in person. My cover would be blown on first glance!
For the most part, a lot of people don’t tend to pretend to be someone that they’re not online, but it does happen. In my experiences of being a part of different online communities for the past eighteen years, I’ve ran across three individuals who pretended to be the opposite than what they were in reality. In extreme ways, their real life gender, race, occupation, and location of where they had claimed to live didn’t match their online claims at all.
However, the biggest issue of the internet is much simpler than scam artists like this.
Anonymity on the internet is more commonly used for online bullies/trolls. I have a much higher experience of trolls than anything else online. I seem to run across at least ten of them personally every year, many more indirectly, to the point that my blogs are moderated and comments aren’t automatically added, This is done to curb the encouragement of said disruption to my particular space.
I hate the fact that when I do get friendly and reasonable comments of discussion to my blogs, that user has to wait until I notice their comment and approve it, for it to appear in my comments below. I’m not against opposing views and I love intelligent discussions. I’m not keen on criticism, but if it’s constructive, I will allow it! Although, the kind of things that trolls tend to post aren’t intelligent, are not constructive criticism, nor meant for any discussion. The purpose is for disruption and harassment, and for the purpose of feeling “important” and to gain attention.
What is a troll? I think Extra Credits explains it best in their video about: Harassment. It’s not that these are highly ignorant people, nor do they want dialog, they just want attention. For whatever reasons, trolls crave attention, LOTS of it, and they seek to gain it by very negative means.
I’m tempted to say that trolling may be a form of mental illness, in a way, of people who lack the mental ability to gain positive attention and self-esteem reinforcement by the same positive means as most people do. It’s just a theory, I could be wrong. Maybe trolls are able to do so, but for whatever reasons choose to seek attention in very horrible ways. ;^_^>
One of the popular sayings for handling trolls is “Do not feed the trolls!”, which means that people should just ignore them and don’t respond/comment on their harassment. It seems like a plausible response, because the troll can’t gain any satisfaction if no attention is given to them.
However, BrainCraft’s Vanessa Hill made a very good point in her video titled: Don’t Read The Comments. It’s really hard to not read or want to respond to comments, when the whole point of blogs, videos, news articles, and so on is to interact with a community of ideas. Even ones that we may disagree with on a personal level.
Stephen Fry has also offered the idea that it’s best to ignore the comment section altogether online, in order to avoid the hurt that can be gained by trolls seeking attention. For me, that seems like a very lonely thing to do and defeats the enjoyment that can be gained with sharing ideas with others or finding a commonality with others who have the same thoughts or ideas about a particular subject.
I often scroll the comments to share in the laughter over a particular funny clip or to browse the intelligent points that wasn’t bought up in a particular article. Sometimes, viewers or readers will ask very good questions that will spark a great intellectual discussion, thus adding more to the original video, blog, or article. It seems like a real shame to avoid that part of the experience, in order to save ourselves from the trite comments of trolls. o_O
Which brings me to the point that Mike Rugnetta of PBS Idea Channel spoke of in his video: The Experiences of Being Trolled. The idea that one should not feed the trolls or that it’s up to the individual to ignore harassment, places the responsibility of the harassment on the person being trolled and not on the environment hosting the trolling. And this doesn’t seem fair or right to me. A better solution would be to find a way to disincentivize trolling altogether.
The “don’t feed the trolls” idea seems to work on a temporary basis, because trolls do tend to go away when a community collectively turn away from them and refuse to give them the attention that they seek. However, a professional troll can always circumvent around that, by saying something so disturbing that one member loses it and respond eventually. And once the troll began trashing that person, others rush in to defend the victim, thus everyone winds up feeding the troll a healthy meal. >_<
Some have suggested that moderating a site and comments may help, as I tend to do with my blogs, although the negative side effect is that my readers have to wait for their comments to appear. Therefore another reader may not have the opportunity to comment beforehand to another’s comment, before I’m finally able to log online and reply to either. This means that my comment section lacks the natural ebb and flow of communication needed for a good online discussion.
However, the price of allowing open comments is far too high for me emotionally, as I honestly do have to take breaks from reading the comments on sites like Youtube, Facebook, or any news article, because I will get worked up by the hateful comments that are either racist, sexist, homophobic, death or rape threats to the creators or other viewers, and other horrible things.
In the past, my earlier blogs yielded such trolls and it caused my willingness to write and share anything to greatly falter, or caused my decision to delete the whole blog entirely. Seeing it happening to others, who have valuable ideas or enjoyable content to share online, it hurts. And it drudges up my personal past experiences of dealing with online harassment.
To Mike’s questions of “If you suffer from day after day, instance after instance, of the worse kind of trolling, is it not possible that the other kind – the argumentative/ negativity for negativity sake kind, might always become the threatening kind? Or serve as a reminder of it? Or at the very least create an environment where it feels inevitable?”, my answer to that is a strong “YES.” to all of the above.
The reason why creators (including myself) usually place a “trigger warning” on their videos, stories, or articles dealing with abuse, even though some people may not have had that same experience with certain types of abuse, is because there is always a huge chance that some of the audience may have. There is an understanding that similar types of bad behavior can trigger a person.
Trolling for negativity sake often does mirror the threatening kind, for those who do or had suffered with extreme harassment online or off, and it can cause a profound psychological hurt or anxiety, no matter if it’s attended or not.
That’s my honest opinion and experience on it, anyway. (Side Note: I really am a fan of Mile’s channel, because he does asks the most insightful questions! I just had to mention that. ^_^v)
So, in conclusion… how do we deal with trolls? I don’t have the answer to that, but I’ll keep thinking more on it, along with the rest of the internet community. I’m very glad that there is a discussion happening about it and more people are becoming aware of this serious problem, I only hope that someday soon we will reach an collective solution that works for everyone… maybe not the trolls.
Meanwhile, I keep my blogs moderated and it’s fairly easy for me to delete troll comments behind the scenes, without it affecting me in a negative way. I try my best not to read the comments too often on other non-moderated sites. When I find myself reading a string of hateful comments, my blood pressure is climbing and tears are welling up, I tell myself “STOP!” and I click away the browser immediately. I never comment to the trolls and try my best to forget about the vile things I’ve read.
Thanks for reading! ^_^