My friend’s high school kid was lightheartedly telling her that if she desired to be net-savvy, she had to familiarize herself with the Internet’s slangs too. It all had to do with him answering her queries about ‘trolling’.
Norse mythology and Scandinavian folklore abound with tales of the troll. Believed to be a supernatural creature in the garb of a giant or a dwarf, trolls are depicted as weird-looking creatures living in rocks, mountains, or caves isolated from human habitats. They are known to be angry, unfriendly creatures that wait to cause harm to others. Trolls have also been featured in popular culture and among many, the troll has had a prominent appearance in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Katherine Paterson’s poignant children’s novel Bridge to Terabithia, and J.K. Rowling’s immensely famous Harry Potter franchise. As a child, my little one was hyped up with excitement when in the first book and film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry Potter and Ron Weasley save Hermione Granger from a troll.
The trolls of folklore, mythology, and fiction have evolved into a new avatar in today’s world. There’s nothing phantasmal about them; they are very much human. The urban dictionary defines this type of troll as “one who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.” Sadly, the Internet and social media are flooded with these individuals lurking around, sowing discord with their derogatory behavior.
As much as you may be envying the life of a celebrity getting all the fame and prominence, do not forget that they are the most vulnerable targets when it comes to trolling. Almost every other day we get to hear the news of actors, singers, politicians, writers, CEOs, or any other public figure being brutally scrutinized over the net. It’s not always an erring action that brings them the flak; the disparaging comments can pour in anytime without a valid reason.
The common man is also not free from being a victim of trolling. Anyone who uses Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, or any other social networking site is liable to be trolled. The video that you post over the net to exhibit your artistic talents may fetch you positive comments from an unknown audience. At the same time you may be totally demoralized by those inflammatory, extraneous messages posted by some other anonymous users.
Why do people troll an individual or a community over the net? The common belief is that anyone who resorts to such malicious action may be angry, depressed, or jealous. He or she may be an attention-seeker or someone having narcissistic traits. Or is it possible that a person may troll just to get some sadistic pleasure by hurting others?
Researchers from Cornell and Stanford came up with very interesting findings on what makes an online troll. Contrary to prior studies that suggested that it’s a vocal, antisocial minority that resorted to trolling, this research (“Anyone Can Become a Troll: Causes of Trolling Behavior in Online Discussions”, 2017) came up with a very surprising revelation that even the sensible, respectful commentator is capable of trolling. While trying to decipher whether it was inherent traits or situational factors that prompted this verbal abuse, the researchers identified two trigger mechanisms. An individual’s mood and prior exposure to trolling comments were the responsible factors for trolling. One who is in a negative mood is liable to give into trolling. On analyzing the data, it was seen that trolling was at its highest late at night and occurred least frequently in the morning. Also, it peaked on Monday mornings which were the beginning of a work week. This points to another possibility that bad mood is influenced by the time and day of the week. Fatigue and tiredness late at night and the feeling of Monday blues may contribute to negative temperament. The second trigger is the spiral factor. Any discussion that starts with a troll comment is highly likely to generate similar comments to follow the trend.
No research or study is embedded in stone and cannot present a statement of finality. Whatever be the reason, trolling behavior of any sort cannot be justified. The disturbing truth is that trolling is on the rise, and it does not look like it will be abated any time soon. While news sites can remove comments sections below articles to eliminate trolling, they will also be losing out on the potential for important healthy input in the process. Google came up with an “application interface” which uses machine learning technology that can spot abusive, harassing comments. A “toxicity score” is given to the comments and depending on their severity they are either moderated or rejected straightaway with the commenters being given the feedback of why the messages were rejected. However, even though this is a very commendable step in the right direction, the technology is yet to achieve full fruition, and loopholes have been detected. Researchers at the University of Washington’s Network Security Lab demonstrated that the anti-trolling technology could be easily defeated if trollers deliberately made typos which the software cannot flag as abusive.
The world has become a global village with the rise of the Internet and social networks. Information and communication media are at our finger tips. But just as these blessings have been showered upon us, our problems have multiplied too. Cyber-bullying and trolling are some of these ills that plague netizens.
Retaliation is not the way to stop trolling. That would provoke the troll even more. It’s best to ignore and make light of the situation. If not possible to ignore, one should respond with kindness and respect. There is no guarantee, but you might be surprised as to how your genial approach has brought about a transformation in the troll’s attitude. For someone launching a personal website, the host has the complete freedom to remove outrageous messages and also ban the members who made the disrespectful remarks from visiting the page. Companies which have adequate resources should make use of a team of moderators that monitor activity and delete offensive comments that are posted.
Is there a panacea for this disease that has victimized so many? There is definitely no fool-proof remedy, but anyone who has been trolled can do his or her own share to get the better of those chaos-mongers that populate the cyberspace.