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Reasons Why People Troll on Social Media

Carola is a mental health advocate and a freelance writer who focuses on mental health, mental illness, and cognitive conditions..

When I hear the term “troll,” I first think of a big, ugly, and stupid guy from a Harry Potter movie or fantasy TV shows and films. Nowadays, trolling has become a verb to describe bad behavior on social media. As a writer, I have had my fair share of negative comments. Common types of troll activity are: profanity, hate speech, misogyny, body-shaming, name-calling, and all kinds of verbal harassment on various platforms.

The case of Sophie Weaver

A famous example of extreme trolling is the case of Sophie Weaver, a ten-year-old North Carolina girl with a facial disfigurement and complex medical needs. Trolls used a picture of her to promote the idea that children with disabilities should be aborted. Many cruel remarks ridiculed Sophie’s appearance. Disturbing comments questioned her right to live. Her mother, Natalie Weaver, fought for the removal of a Twitter post with her daughter’s picture and is now an advocate and outspoken critic of trolling behavior. Sophie died in 2019.

According to The Conversation, a Pew Internet Survey found that many people have witnessed trolling in action on the internet and found that four individuals out of 10 experience it online. Some websites have removed the ability to make comments as a result of bad behavior. So, what motivates people to troll?

Reasons Why People Become Trolls

Mental health issues

Most of us think of trolls as mentally disturbed or sociopathic individuals. Research has shown that a small percentage of perpetrators have specific personality and biological traits that predispose them to this type of behavior such as thrillseeking, narcissism, or sadistic tendencies. Some enjoy ridiculing and tormenting others. They love to stir up trouble and do not care who they upset on social media.

These trolls get an emotional payoff when they inflict pain on others. If we respond to their posts, they are likely to rub their hands with glee and escalate their abusive comments. However, when we disengage, we are sending the message that their behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

The trolls may give up persecuting us and look for other vulnerable prey on social media to get their thrills. Others may continue their obnoxious and upsetting behavior. Their posts should be blocked and reported to social media sites so that the abuse does not escalate. Doing so shows that we are demanding to be treated with kindness and respect.

Influences such as time and mood

A CNN.com analysis of comments on their website revealed that several factors might lead to negative posts such as negative moods, the time of day, and the day of the week. Some people troll when they are having a bad day. Trolling occurs most frequently late at night and is highest on Mondays.
Perpetrators are more likely to post negative comments when they see others going at it. One troll comment can spiral into a long thread that can become the norm if the comments are not stopped.

I often see the phrase, “Don’t feed the trolls.” Trolls may stop engaging if we ignore them. In other cases, a neutral comment such as: “Hello, have a nice day” reminds them that we are real human beings. Sophie Weaver’s mother Natalie still posts videos to humanize Sophie as a loving, special child, not a monster. Some perpetrators in this category may feel guilty about their behavior and apologize. Humor may also diffuse a verbal powder key.

A desire for attention

Others may be driven by a desperate need for attention. When they get it, they may experience the illusion that they are important.

Being passive-aggressive

Passive-aggressive people hide resentment inside and do not talk about it. Instead, they express anger by undermining people and sabotaging them. These offenders may leave people out of parties, use the silent treatment, and spread rumors. They do things under the radar to escape confrontation and conflict. The anonymity and impersonal environment of social media enables them to hurt others without being held accountable. Their posts may seem benign on the surface but may be sarcastic barbs under the surface.

Being passionate about certain discussions

According to Psychology Today, some people are “married to their beliefs and don't believe in divorce.” They enjoy controversy and heated discussions online about politics, religion, and other beliefs. They are upset when they see posts that contradict their cherished viewpoints. They sometimes over-identify with certain beliefs and view differing opinions as personal attacks.

They may be master manipulators who want the whole world to know “the right way” to perceive situations. Their mission in life seems to be to force other people to think the way that they do.

Promoting beliefs with hate speech

Hate speech mocks, degrades, and discriminates against people with disabilities, as in the case of Sophie Weaver. Other common targets people of different races, ethnicities, religions, and political affiliations.

Concluding Thoughts

Knowing why people troll helps us decide how to react. Cranky people who post once may be appeased by a non-judgmental, neutral, or amusing response. Repeat offenders who enjoy hurting and upsetting people can be blocked, muted, or reported to the moderators. Other behavior may be criminal and need to be reported to law enforcement.

When we discern potential causes of trolling, we are better able to identify potentially contentious discussions ahead of time and decide how to deal with them. Some software can help websites to identify and filter out troll comments. Website managers who are vigilant in monitoring posts discourage trolling behavior.

Our choices should make social media a safer place for all of us and protect us from harm.

References:

Our experiments taught us why people troll, The Conversation, Justin Cheng, Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil, Jure Leskovec, Michael Bernstein

Why Do People Troll Online?, Psychology Today, Jonathan N. Stea Ph.D., R. Psych
How Trolls Are Ruining the Internet, Time, Joel Stein
North Carolina girl with rare brain disorder and facial deformities who suffered vile online trolling about her appearance has died aged 10, Daily Mail, Leah McDonald
The psychology of trolling: what sort of person becomes a troll, and why?, Stylist, Kayleigh Dray
7 Signs You're Dealing With a Passive-Aggressive Person, Time, Jeffrey Kluger

Comments

dashingscorpio from Chicago on October 01, 2020:

"Some enjoy ridiculing and tormenting others. They love to stir up trouble and do not care who they upset on social media."

That pretty much sums up what a (troll) is.

Essentially trolling is a form of social media "bullying".

In other instances they HATE your stances or outlook on life.

Some trolls take pride in getting you to close down your account. Nothing frustrates a troll more than reading something they disagree with only to realize the "comments" section has been disabled.

Having said that we now find ourselves living in a culture where almost everyone is out to cultivate "likes", "followers" or "shares" in order to validate they are not alone in their thoughts/opinion or feelings. The Internet and social media make it possible for ordinary people to become quasi celebrities right from their own homes.

One thing they quickly learn is every celebrity has "haters" and it requires a "tough skin" to withstand the slings and arrows of criticism.

This explains why so many people are reluctant (in person) to take the lead or step out of the shadows onto the center stage.

No one who has ever walked the earth has ever been "universally loved" whether it was Jesus Christ, Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, or Martin Luther King they all had enemies and detractors.

Therefore anyone who decides to put themselves out there should know they will run the risk of being trolled. It comes with the territory.