The Impact of Trolling on Online Civility

Public behavior is often shaped by societal norms that dictate what is considered polite and acceptable. In real-life interactions, we generally avoid derogatory language, unnecessary criticism, and confrontations over trivial matters.

However, the online world seems to operate under a different set of rules. A segment of internet users, known as trolls, exploit the anonymity provided by the web to disrupt conversations and provoke conflicts.

Understanding the Motivations of a Troll

Trolls intentionally post comments or content that are designed to incite discord and provoke reactions. They derive pleasure from causing emotional distress and luring others into pointless debates. They are also known by other names such as “Haters,” “Flame-baiters,” and “Cyberbullies.”

The concept of trolling was first analyzed in a 1999 paper by Judith Donath. She describes trolling as a deceptive game that is played without the consent of most participants.

Image depicting a troll character

A study by the University of Manitoba found that trolling behavior is positively correlated with traits like sadism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. This suggests that trolls act out of a lack of empathy and a desire to see others suffer.

Another study by the University of New South Wales focused on the gender dynamics in the video game Halo 3. The study revealed that male players who troll female players are often those who are losing in the game. This behavior is driven by the fear of being defeated by a woman.

Understanding the Psychology of Internet Trolls

Ever wondered what drives internet trolls? Let’s delve into the psychology behind their actions. The root cause of trolling behavior is what psychologist John Suler refers to as the online disinhibition effect. This phenomenon explains why people are more likely to act out or disclose personal information online than they would in face-to-face interactions.

According to Suler’s research, six key factors influence how people behave and communicate on the internet.

1. Disassociative Anonymity

One major factor contributing to online disinhibition is the belief that your online actions won’t affect your real-life identity. In simpler terms, there’s a separation between the real “you” and your online persona.

2. Invisibility

When you’re online, you’re essentially invisible to others. This lack of visibility frees you from societal norms and expectations. You’re not constrained by etiquette, allowing you to express yourself without filters.

3. Asynchronicity

The asynchronous nature of online interactions gives you the confidence to be more direct, even confrontational, in your comments. You’re not bound by real-time conversations, which can embolden you to be more blunt or even aggressive.

4. Solipsistic Introjection

Just as others can’t see you, you can’t see them either. According to a study from the University of Haifa, this lack of visual cues hampers your ability to understand others’ emotions and nonverbal signals.

5. Dissociative Imagination

Interacting through a computer screen can create a sense of detachment from reality. This detachment can make it easier to say hurtful things, as you may be unaware or dismissive of the real-world consequences of your words.

6. Minimizing Authority

Finally, the absence of a central authority or law enforcement online blurs the lines of acceptable behavior. It raises the question: how far can you go in expressing your opinions without crossing into harmful territory?

Are We Too Far Gone?

Numerous websites have taken proactive measures to combat trolling. For instance, Popular Science and similar platforms have either disabled comments or exert greater administrative control to keep trolls at bay.

Some platforms enforce mandatory registration, requiring your name, online account, and even phone number. This is done to enhance security and deter identity theft.

Others employ stringent moderation policies, going to the extent of banning users who engage in disruptive behavior.

Anonymous User

Regrettably, these rules and guidelines are not foolproof. The innate human urge to engage in entertaining yet harmful activities persists. While not all internet users are trolls, those who are tend to be the most vocal and unavoidable.

The issue of trolling divides opinions. Some find it annoying, while others are amused. When asked if this problem can ever be fully resolved, many believe it’s unlikely to completely eradicate trolling, especially among the younger, internet-savvy generation. The general sentiment is that we might have to learn to coexist with it.

Remember, There’s a Human Behind the Screen

It takes just a few minutes to change someone’s view about online etiquette. You can educate your friends, children, coworkers, and even yourself. The first step is to remember that real people are behind every word, picture, and video online. Think before you speak; if you wouldn’t say it face-to-face, it’s best not to say it online.

Unfortunately, this isn’t something taught in schools. Kids learn how to behave online through trial and error. However, if we all take a moment to remind each other that there are real people on the other side of the screen, we can foster a more respectful online community.

Well-dressed person representing online etiquette

To conclude this article, let’s turn to the words of Kurt Vonnegut, one of the most influential authors of all time.

Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. You’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies – God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

6 Psychological Reasons Behind People’s Online Behavior

6 Psychological Reasons Behind People’s Online Behavior

At some point in your online life, you might have wondered: Why do trolls troll? Why does my... Read more