Friday, 23 January 2015

Maybe We Should Feed The Trolls …

With my first Vlog I'm going to look at the most common challenge us online folks face … the internet troll. The site Urban dictionary attempted to put a positive spin on trolling, suggesting it is the art of deliberately, cleverly and secretly pissing people off.  Someone might need to take another look at his definition of art but the suggestion is trolling has standards and not every malcontent on the internet can claim the moniker troll. Most sites were not as flattering to the troll's ego as UD. Other top hits included words like narcissists, psychopaths and sadists and my favourite online trolls really are horrible people. Ouch … Well, I have a friend who confessed to me that he used to troll and I know him to also have a very kind side, which led me to question the psychology going on between the two polar ideas that trolls are just so clever that they need to spread that clever around by making others feel less or that they are throwaway villains.

I visited one more site with the title internet trolls can't help themselves. It quoted one Olivier Morin, a cultural anthropologist, who claims that trolls are more or less just like you and me only more intense and because the internet protects one's identity … which it doesn't … not really. But armed with an avatar and screen name, trolls/we lose our inhibitions and throw off social norms. Okay … I've had pen names and yes, I said things that I wouldn't have said using my real name. But not because I wanted to hurt anyone or get a rise; rather because I really felt what I was saying to be the truth. I was afraid espousing something as controversial as the truth I would be judged negatively.

Did that make me a troll? From my perspective … of course not. 

When I asked my friend why he trolled he told me to get a reaction. But of course he wasn't just looking for any reaction … no he was looking for an emotional and negative reaction. And this is, in my opinion, what makes a troll. Motivation. A troll won't just state an opinion or the fact but pepper his response with insults … true enough sometimes they are clever and funny. But that cleverness is used not just to attack ideas but to attack personhood of the other. WHY … to create a foe and defeat a foe and thereby gain validation … usually two-fold validation. One … having led someone to be emotional the troll feels more intelligent than said emotional-one. The troll's faith in his intelligence is a faith that must be bolstered by making someone else feel inferior. Many of us may have had authority figures like this in our own lives … fathers or older siblings … you. Ringing a bell. The other reason goes much deeper and is very much connected to the first reason. The need for validation through attention … any attention. The easiest, almost sure fire way to gain attention is through negative behaviour. We see this with emotionally-neglected and abused children all the time.

Believe it or not the troll isn't just looking to make you upset but to emotionally bond with you and the only way he may know how is through eliciting a negative emotional response. My friend had been horribly bullied throughout school and intimacy was something that he readily admitted to struggling with. That's right trolls are suffering just like you and me.

So how do we deal with the troll ...

First off deal with yourself. Step away from the keyboard …  feel your emotions … if he makes you angry … be angry … if he makes you sad be sad … but don't feed your emotions with commentary … let them be … they'll expand and dissipate and you'll see clearly again.

That said there are some thought patterns that might help ….

Maybe he's not a troll; maybe he just doesn't agree and doesn't know how to express himself in a more constructive, less confrontational manner and maybe … gasp … he has a point. So don't be too attached to your own opinions. Nothing changes faster than opinion. We humans jig those things all the time and why ... to back up our actions. Almost always your actions will come first and your opinions after. So if someone comes along and … shudder … disagrees with you … don't sweat it. Tomorrow likely you are going to disagree with you too.

And remember it's not personal. No matter what awful thing the troll types … he doesn't know you. He is basing his opinions on your opinions and opinions change. So in the very same way your opinions do not define you, his opinions define you even less. And the insults … dollars to donuts someone said something very similar to him when he was most vulnerable… probably many times … and probably it was someone one who was meant to protect and love him.  He is continuing to act out the drama with you because it is safer or he is unable to act it out with his original opponent.

So whatever you do … don't repeat the pattern.

We see it all the time don't feed the trolls and most of the time this is the best advice, especially if you are awash in anger and sadness … so delete and block at will. But if you do encounter a troll and you find yourself invulnerable to his words feed him with good-natured humour and empathy. Laugh with him. Teach him there is another way to communicate and relate. Because we are all on this journey through space and time together and there is no throwing anyone overboard, not even the trolls.



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