“It’s been my policy to view the Internet not as an ‘information highway’, but as an electronic asylum filled with babbling loonies.” – Mike Royko
Royko, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago journalist, uttered these words some time before his death in 1997.
Let’s put that comment into context. The last restrictions on the Internet’s ability to carry commercial traffic were only removed in the United States in 1995, when a paltry 16 million people – 0.4% of the world’s population of 5.6 billion – used the Internet. 1995 was also the year Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google’s co-founders, first met at university. Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, was only 11 years old.
And locally, iiNet was only 2 years old.
Fast-forward to today, where 39% of the world’s 7.1 billion people use the Internet, and you’d be forgiven for thinking Royko’s words were almost prophetic.
The Internet has changed humanity for the better, but as with most forums which permit the easy exchange of opinion, there will always be those whose sole existence is based around extracting maximum personal entertainment from your discomfort, outrage or pain: the troll.
What is a troll or trolling?
A study published earlier this year in the Personality and Individual Differences journal by Canadian psychologists defines trolling as “the practice of behaving in a deceptive, destructive, or disruptive manner in a social setting on the Internet with no apparent instrumental purpose.”
From the study:
“Trolls operate as agents of chaos on the Internet, exploiting ‘hot-button issues’ to make users appear overly emotional or foolish in some manner… If an unfortunate person falls into their trap, trolling intensifies for further, merciless amusement. This is why novice Internet users are routinely admonished, ‘Do not feed the trolls!’.”
With the Internet’s importance to modern society not showing any signs of decreasing, the troll is being carefully researched and dissected to see what makes them tick in order to develop better ways to combat their vitriol. In the study quoted earlier, the conclusion drawn was that trolls show signs of having personality traits which occupy what’s known as the “Dark Tetrad”: sadism, psychopathy, narcissism and “Machiavellianism”: a disregard for morality and tendency to manipulate or exploit others.
Whether you believe this or not, trolls can definitely cause spikes in blood pressure, so, in the spirit of helping everyone enjoy their time on the Internet, I’ve put together a list of troll survival tips!
Rule 1: Avoid areas where trolls congregate
If you’re the type of person who may arc up or, worse, respond to trolls, it’s best to avoid areas where they naturally meet and socialise. Comments sections of online news articles and YouTube videos are the leading troll habitation areas, closely followed by Facebook pages, Twitter, and Tumblr blogs.
In short, if you don’t think you can handle trolls, avoid them!
Rule 2: Don’t feed the trolls
Trolls exist for attention, plain and simple. If they’re ignored, the go in search of their next ‘meal’. By ignoring them – no acknowledgement, no response, nothing – the troll is unable to fulfil its desire for attention and will fairly quickly move on.
Rule 3: Acknowledgement
If you must engage a troll, one-word responses feigning acknowledgement of their point, e.g. “OK, Cool”, are best. Without a counter-argument to twist into further amusement for themselves, the troll will again be forced to move on to greener pastures. This works best if dealing with people you know and deal with on a regular basis, e.g. family members or friends.
Rule 4: Remember to laugh!
As renowned Internet troll Ken M’s Tumblr shows, the things trolls say – the ‘bait’ they lay in their traps – can occasionally be harmless, perhaps even amusing. If the topic isn’t serious, don’t be afraid to have a chuckle at your/their expense. Not only will this lower your blood pressure, but you’ll be less inclined to fall into whatever trap they’re setting as you’ve already switched off the ‘take this seriously’ part of your brain.
These are the four main rules I would suggest following if and when you encounter a troll. Just remember, if the research is correct, engaging with trolls helps fuel a psychological urge to cause mayhem, so keeping the fires of chaos extinguished is the safest course of action!
Do you have any tips to share when dealing with online trolls? Share them in the comments below.
Photo credit: EirikSolheim