Trolls get a lot of attention, but never as much as they want. That pretty well sums up the problem, and its cause. Right, then. Let’s wrap this up and call it a day, shall we? No, we shan’t. This post is called Trolls Observed and all we’ve done so far is stereotype and dismiss them. They deserve nothing less, of course, but today we’re going to give them something more. We’re going to look at a few attempts to define and analyze them.
Let’s begin with the definition of troll in the Urban Dictionary.
One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.
That is a good and succinct definition, shorn of their self-aggrandizement and their detractors’ invective. Next up is a Slate article looking at a psychology paper by Erin Buckels of the University of Manitoba, which
… sought to directly investigate whether people who engage in trolling are characterized by personality traits that fall in the so-called Dark Tetrad: Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate and deceive others), narcissism (egotism and self-obsession), psychopathy (the lack of remorse and empathy), and sadism (pleasure in the suffering of others).
To save you the trouble of following the link and finding out for yourself, yes, there was significant correlation between trolling and the Dark Tetrad, especially sadism. Next, a Mother Jones article about the negative effects of trolling on rational debate.
… it polarized the audience: Those who already thought (one thing) tended to become more sure of themselves when exposed to name-calling, while those who thought (the other thing) were more likely to move in their own favored direction. In other words, it appeared that pushing people’s emotional buttons, through derogatory comments, made them double down on their preexisting beliefs.
The effects are negative indeed. The trolls’ aims of disruption and derailment are met, almost invariably. This final link is to an example of the damage done to one person by trolls. I strongly advise you to follow this link, because it’s impossible for me to encapsulate it, and I really think you’ll enjoy it.
Ben Garrison is the most trolled cartoonist in the world. His trolls love him so much, they recreated him in their own image.
Trolls get a lot of attention. They’re annoying time-wasters who can take the pleasure out of our interactions on the internet. But they’re worse than that. They can be hurtful. They can undermine civil discourse. And, in bad cases, they can ruin people’s lives. They’re not just a mildly diverting aberration. They can be really harmful. They need to be managed, like any destructive parasite.