BY ROBERT LABAYEN
WHEN you see so many mean things said about a social media post that you made or liked, it may be a troll attack.
Many of these trolls are paid pawns using fake names. Their orders are to defame people and organisations that are critics or rivals of their “client.”
Some trolls are not paid. They are just people who feel good by making others feel bad. Their social media post and comments are mean, humiliating and often untrue. For example, an article on the website of The Guardian mentioned that a 19-year-old blogger suffering from depression committed suicide when trolls said she is “ugly and better off dead.”
Is trolling a mental illness?
A psychological study shows that there are people who can easily relate to the statement “Although people think my posts/comments are offensive, I think they’re funny.”
The study by the Federation University in Australia suggests that habitual trolls may have “higher levels of trait psychopathy and sadism.” The said research cited by the Quartz, ABC News and CBS News websites reveals that trolls are motivated by the desire “to create mayhem” on the internet.
A degree of psychopathy is suspected because inflicting hurt and causing trouble is what psychopaths want. They know that their actions hurt people, but they do not care. They enjoy it. They are addicted to it. The attention they receive, whether angry reactions or affirmation by like-minded people are rewards that they want more and more of.
In all the books on psychopathy that I have read, experts also describe psychopaths as liars to the highest degree.
My personal theory is that jealous and bitter people take advantage of the now-possible way to “touch” previously unreachable and untouchable celebrities, politicians, rich people and companies.
Who are the paid trolls?
It is sometimes not easy to differentiate a troll from a hater, a critic, a partisan, an advocate, or a disappointed customer. But some people are paid to unleash negativity even if they do not know what they are talking about. They are trolls.
An online article claimed that the Washington Post has interviewed workers from “troll farms.” The trolls admitted that politicians have used cyber armies. Their job was to “churn out fake content, false narratives and anything else the client wants.”
They “maintained fake accounts to make it appear as if the candidate had a vast and fervent base of supporters.” Another one of the things they did was to smear their client’s critics.
According to exposes, each troll maintains up to two hundred different social media accounts. It explains why their comments come in hordes like a quick-reaction battalion.
It is a worldwide concern. Back in 2018, Twitter admitted through the Washington Post that it has been “suspending more than one million fake and dubious accounts per day.” Facebook has cracked down on suspicious users, too.
Paid trolls may not be psychopaths. They are just doing it for the money. But if they are undeniably thrilled by the job of lying and hurting good people, they may fall into the mental category.
A few years ago, people believed that trolls in China were paid fifty cents for every post they made. An article published by the South China Morning Post website reported a clarification made by researchers from Harvard. It said the digital army was composed of government employees who would post praises for the Chinese government to “deflect criticism.” They were not paid extra for their efforts.
Troll farm operators distinguish between black trolls and white trolls. The whites are just like PR practitioners publishing only positive things for their clients.
How to deal with trolls
Experts advise that we “must not feed them.” Our reaction will only reinforce their behaviour.
Our attention will make them feel effective. So, it is best to avoid reading what they say, disable comments, or unfriend the people who ruin our day.
My personal approach is to breathe long and deep before typing anything. The agitated feeling would always go away in a few minutes. Later, and not directly replying to the troll, I post my own message which would be truthful information. As much as I can, I keep my poise and breeding.
Thomas Chamorro-Premuzic is a professor of Business Psychology at University College London. In an article on The Guardian website, he reminds us that “there’s a thin line between wanting to drive traffic and enticing trolling, so content editors and site managers must act responsibly and beware of the consequences of pushing for too much controversy.”
Of course, the best way to defend our minds from trolls is to keep ourselves educated and objective.
Do you rant on social media, too?
Many of us have emotional moments on social media. What we need to guard against is the escalation of self-expression to hate. Sally Kohn, a CNN commentator and author of the book The Opposite of Hate, noted how angry posts about gays, Muslims, Jews, immigrants, black people, white people, and rumored paedophiles for example actually provoked violent incidents.
She was also concerned about the bile in the social media language during the last US presidential election. Trump supporters said, “She should be hanged in the streets,” pertaining to Hillary Clinton. Some Trump-haters for their part claimed, “Laughing at all Trump supporters in Gatlinburg as their homes burn to the ground tonight.”
I trust that my readers are the type who keep it classy. You can express yourselves without losing your cool. If we cannot be kind to the trolls, let us just ignore them. They will be ineffective when no one is engaging with them. They will stop when there is no one paying them anymore.