Unmasking the Dark Art of the Internet Troll

You too can become an internet troll!

The Internet Troll: An Overview

The Internet Troll An OverviewIn the bustling world of online communication, one entity stands out for all the wrong reasons: the “internet troll”. This cyber creature thrives on the discord they sow within digital communities, hiding behind anonymity while manipulating threads of conversation. Take the infamous case of “Violentacrez,” a notorious troll on Reddit, who was exposed by Gawker in 2012 for posting offensive content. This example showcases the audacious impunity with which internet trolls operate.

Beyond the stereotype, trolls exhibit a diversity in their methods and motivations. A 2014 study by Buckels, Trapnell, and Paulhus found that internet trolls often exhibit traits linked with the Dark Tetrad of personality: sadism, psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism. They delight in the chaos they generate, symbolizing the darker facets of digital freedom.

The unpredictability of trolls is a significant part of their danger. In her book “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” scholar Whitney Phillips describes trolls as “agents of cultural digestion,” who turn our media environment’s output back on itself. Understanding the phenomenon of internet trolling is paramount in a world increasingly shaped by online discourse.

The DNA of an Internet Troll

The DNA of an Internet TrollTrolling is an act grounded in malice, with a primary intention to provoke, disrupt, and distress. Observing the trolls on Twitter during the 2016 US Presidential Election highlights the lengths trolls will go to stoke controversy. They created an atmosphere of hostility, leading to the popularization of the term “Twitter Wars.”

Trolls thrive on the disarray they instigate within peaceful corners of the internet, deriving a perverse joy from the discomfort and outrage of others. In the words of a self-proclaimed troll interviewed by The Guardian in 2012, “Lulz is watching someone lose their mind at their computer 2,000 miles away while you chat with friends and laugh.”

Their actions often stem from a warped sense of amusement derived from others’ distress. A prime example of this was the 2007 ‘Rickrolling’ trend, where internet users were deceptively led to click on hyperlinks that redirected them to Rick Astley’s music video “Never Gonna Give You Up” – a harmless, yet frustrating prank.

Master of Disguise – The Tactics of a Troll

Internet trolls are masters at blending into online communities, adept at adopting different personalities to cause discord. The infamous case of Reddit’s ‘Unidan‘ illustrates this well. Unidan was a respected ecology expert who used multiple accounts to upvote his posts and downvote others, eventually being exposed and banned for his deceit.

A troll’s strength lies in their cunning. Their subtle, incendiary comments are often just provocative enough to spark a reaction but not overtly hostile to be immediately flagged. As Jamie Bartlett, author of “The Dark Net,” puts it, “The best trolls are the ones that can’t be distinguished from sincere, well-meaning participants.”

Multi-account trolling is another popular tactic. Trolls create various personas on a single platform, each interacting and escalating discussions into full-blown arguments. Remember when the BBC discovered in 2012 that one of the most prolific commenters on its website was a single person using 38 different accounts? This sort of cunning strategy reveals the depth of manipulation trolls are capable of.

Diving into the Mind of an Internet Troll

The psychology behind internet trolling is both intriguing and complex. According to a study published in “Personality and Individual Differences,” trolls often display signs of sadism, deriving pleasure from the discomfort they cause others. This links to the infamous case of Brennan ‘the hacker 4chan’, who, as revealed in a Rolling Stone interview, enjoyed the negative attention he garnered from his online exploits.

A 2017 study by Pew Research Center also found that trolls are more likely to be young and male, correlating with the general demographics of online harassers. For instance, gamer Zoe Quinn became a high-profile victim of trolling in the infamous GamerGate scandal, highlighting the gendered nature of some troll attacks.

Trolls also thrive on a sense of superiority, crafting an illusion of intellectual prowess by deliberately misinterpreting other’s arguments, a concept known as “sealioning”. A classic example can be seen in the comic strip “Wondermark,” where a sea lion persistently pesters a human for a debate, hence the origin of the term.

The Dark Impact of Internet Trolling

The impacts of trolling are far-reaching and often distressing for victims. Amanda Todd, a Canadian teenager, took her life in 2012 after an online stalker relentlessly bullied her, a stark example of how trolling can have tragic real-world consequences. Trolling not only damages the mental health of individuals but also sours the online environment, making it a breeding ground for negativity.

Trolls can also influence public opinion, as seen in the 2016 US presidential election. Coordinated troll campaigns disseminated fake news, leading to widespread misinformation and discord. Such incidents demonstrate how trolling can have significant political implications.

High-profile companies are not immune to trolls either. In 2017, McDonald’s faced a troll attack when their promotional “Rick and Morty” Szechuan Sauce ran out, leading to severe backlash. It highlights how trolls can impact corporate reputation and customer relationships.

Cyber Knights – Combating Internet Trolls

Confronting internet trolls is a herculean task that requires both individual and collective effort. Strategies such as the famous mantra “don’t feed the trolls” advise ignoring the provocative comments to deny trolls the satisfaction of a response.

Web platforms have also developed mechanisms to combat trolls. Reddit, for example, uses a voting system where users can downvote offensive content. Similarly, Twitter introduced a mute feature in 2016, allowing users to block disruptive accounts from appearing in their feed.

Laws are gradually catching up with online harassment too. In 2014, South Korea implemented stringent regulations against online trolling, requiring users to verify their real names before commenting. Although such measures raise debates over free speech, they are steps toward safeguarding the digital space.

The Future of Trolling and Internet Culture

As we hurtle deeper into the digital age, the trolling phenomenon continues to evolve. It has transcended from individual mischief to coordinated campaigns with serious real-world consequences, as shown in the pro-Brexit trolling campaigns in 2016.

Artificial Intelligence is emerging as another frontier for trolls. In 2016, Microsoft’s AI chatbot ‘Tay’ was manipulated by trolls to generate offensive tweets, underlining the new challenges ahead.

However, the future is not all grim. With increased awareness, robust cybersecurity measures, and growing legislation, society is becoming better equipped to tackle internet trolling. As expressed by renowned cybersecurity expert Bruce Schneier, “Security is a process, not a product,” emphasizing the need for continuous adaptation in the fight against trolls.

Proactive Measures: Educating Internet Users about Trolls

Education about the trolling phenomenon is crucial for building resilience among internet users. Understanding the signs of trolling, such as consistent negativity, personal attacks, and off-topic comments, can help individuals recognize and disengage from these interactions early.

Programs like Google’s “Be Internet Awesome,” a strategy against online trolling, provide resources to teach kids about online safety, including how to handle cyberbullies and trolls. Parents and educators play a key role in imparting these lessons, creating a new generation of internet users who are both digitally literate and responsible.

Besides, numerous public figures have shared their experiences with trolling, thereby raising awareness about its impacts. For example, celebrity Chrissy Teigen openly discussed her experiences with internet trolls, inspiring others to share their stories and seek support.

Trolls and Freedom of Speech: Balancing Online Interactions

The issue of trolling brings into question the boundaries of freedom of speech online. While the internet is a platform for diverse viewpoints, it also becomes a shield for those who misuse this liberty to harass and harm others.

The landmark case of Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union (1997) ruled that online speech is entitled to the same First Amendment protections as offline speech. However, a line must be drawn when such speech inflicts harm upon others. Several countries, like the UK and Australia, have enacted laws against online harassment, striking a balance between safeguarding free speech and protecting individuals from internet trolls.

Critics argue that these regulations can be misused to stifle dissent, indicating a need for clear, fair legislation that respects democratic values while preventing abuse.

Conclusion – The Evolving Internet Culture and Trolling

Internet trolling, in all its forms, is an unfortunate byproduct of our increasingly digital world. Yet, it also serves as a mirror to societal attitudes, reflecting the need for empathy and respect in online interactions.

As the digital landscape continues to evolve, so too does the nature of trolling. Today, we are more aware than ever of the impacts of trolling, and this knowledge empowers us to combat it effectively.

Organizations and individuals are creating tools and strategies to deter trolls and foster positive online environments. Legislation is catching up, and societal attitudes are shifting. The fight against internet trolls is far from over, but with each step forward, we’re moving closer to an internet that is safer and more inclusive for all.

Richard Lowe

11 thoughts on “Unmasking the Dark Art of the Internet Troll

  1. Monidipa Reply

    Your comprehensive exploration of internet trolling is enlightening. You’ve delved deep into the psychology and impact of trolls while offering strategies for combating them. The balance between free speech and protection is well-articulated. A valuable piece in the age of digital discourse. Keep up the great work!

  2. Fransic verso Reply

    I hate internet trolls from what my friend encountered dealing with these. Very informative post!

  3. Blair villanueva Reply

    Internet trolls are sad people. The best defense against them is silence. Do not engage and they will die out.

  4. Gervin Khan Reply

    Indeed, those kind of people are just the worst! When you ignore them sometimes they act up more

  5. Marysa Reply

    Trolls are so annoying and frustrating. The digital world definitely has its downsides. Seems like there are way too many people out there that have time to cause trouble and be negative.

  6. Luna S Reply

    Always best to just ignore them when they pop up! Those people have nothing better to do.

  7. Debbie Reply

    Internet trolls are infuriating! They ruin a great internet resource and their ridiculousness is not welcome!

  8. Heather Reply

    These people are cowards hiding behind a computer. They say things online they would never have the courage to do in person.

  9. Rosey Reply

    It’s amazing the power a troll can have when it comes to influence.It’s not surprising though, no matter the situation, trolls always seem to rear their ugly heads.

  10. Beth Reply

    Trolls are the worst. They always want to ruin everything for everyone. I have a friend who has a unique thought on them, though. She told me once that when you get a troll on your site, you know you’ve arrived. LOL

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