In today’s online climate, we are witnessing friends unfollowing or actually unfriending each other, while people are boldly insulting each other with their offensive opinions, thoughts and comments.
Research from Stanford and Cornell University suggests that under the right circumstances, we all have a troll lingering in us.
Lindsey Blackwell, a researcher of online harassment at the University of Michigan, concurs. She points out that technology has the ability to amplify our behavior, not only our best shines through online but also our worst.
Attorney Mitch Jackson, a social media leader and influencer, has experienced his share of trolls. He places them in two categories:
· Recreational trolls - Ones that are simply annoying and will eventually go away after you block them and ignore them.
· Criminal trolls - The ones you need to take more seriously, ones that are out to seriously harm you/and/or your business.
When I wrote Google Bomb with the late John Dozier, a leading internet attorney, he described trolls in ten scofflaw persona’s:
This is the guy who used to wait on street corners for elderly ladies to pass. He enjoys attacking defenseless people and stealing covertly using deception.
We usually identify a wacko situation quickly. There are distinctive characteristics of his communications. The wacko is usually a “follower,” someone looking to gain attention and recognition, but escalates what may have started as fair criticism into more and more outrageous claims.
Or, maybe “liquid courage” would be more appropriate. This guy is exactly what comes to mind. During the day this blogger is a normal guy, but at night he returns to the sanctity of his home, gets drunk or high, and goes out on the web looking for “hook-ups” and blogging on his “hang-ups.”
No, not from another world. But from overseas. In a far, far away place, without any treaty with the US, in a country without an effective legal system and no notion of business or personal property ownership rights.
This is the guy who is scared to talk with a girl, but behind the keyboard, all alone, morphs into a Casanova. This empowerment of anonymity creates an omnipotent persona, and for the first time the nerd feels the effect of power and control, gets an adrenaline buzz when he exercises it, and he exercises it often, usually creating or perpetuating a volatile situation in which he feels he can outsmart the “opposition.”
Enjoy debating a thirteen year old? They are out on the net acting like adults, posting statements and play-acting like a grown-up.
This person attacks others, causes pain, and revels in the results in ways not worthy of mention. He loves to create, direct, control, and unleash a firestorm of criticism about you or your company just to create pain and damage.
No, not morally bankrupt. Actually bankrupt…no money, no assets, no prospects for work, and nothing to lose.
Career criminals, no less. Like the convicted felon running a sophisticated extortion scheme against a very prominent business.
This person is in no manner a leader. This blogger has a hidden agenda, but he just makes it sound like he is a totally objective commentator.
Invasion of Trolls
Over the past years we have watched platforms such as Huffington Post put an end to anonymous comments and NPR , Popular Science and Motherboard shut them down completely due to online commenters harassing each other and abusing the privilege of leaving comments.
These were not children polluting their sites. People leaving comments on these platforms were likely adults, yet they were acting like toddlers with a keypad — poking, teasing and harassing their playmates on a playground with no concern that they are humans too.
Where has civility gone that when you piss off a fellow parent in a carpool line you end up being trashed and trolled on social media? Want to break-up with your partner, but fear you’ll end up as a victim of e-venge? Could it be that when people are pushed to their limit they are recognizing the power of the keyboard?
Justin Cheng, a researcher at Stanford University and lead author of the study above, wanted to better understand why trolling is so prevalent today.
“While the common knowledge is that trolls are particularly sociopathic individuals that occasionally appear in conversations, is it really just these people who are trolling others?”
We may think we know the descriptions of trolls and even ideas of who these people are, which is usually the cesspool of the web, however the research uncovers that you or I could easily be pushed to a point of digital warfare. In a bad mood, wake-up on the wrong side of the bed, passionate about a heated trending topic and your fingers may go flying. When you see a thread that has sparked a fire of negative comments, some think it’s a green-light to pile on the insults — why not add my two-cents, everyone else is.
This gang-like trolling behavior is a “spiral of negativity”, explains Jure Leskovec, senior author of the above study.
“Just one person waking up cranky can create a spark and, because of discussion context and voting, these sparks can spiral out into cascades of bad behavior. Bad conversations lead to bad conversations. People who get down-voted come back more, comment more and comment even worse.”
There is an art to commenting when you don’t agree with posters. We should learn to be constructive, not combative in our responses.
It goes back to the old cliché many of us were taught by our grandparents and parents: "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it at all." We need to take this advice online.
- When in doubt, click out.
- Pause before posting.
- Recognize we are all a click away from being a troll.