Tuesday, 16 May 2017 14:50

Inside the mind of a troll: The psychology behind the vicious trolling women face online


Where does the energy, the drive or perhaps the motivation come from?

“Just don’t look at the comments” - a phrase too familiar to everyone who is online with an opinion. We say that to save our friends from the internet's dark side- the one that reeks of venomously upbrought entitlements we refer to as ‘trolls’.

Hindustan Times sparked this much-needed discussion through their campaign, #LetsTalkAboutTrolls, with women including Barkha Dutt, Gurmehar Kaur and Rana Ayyub fiercely lime-lighting the anatomy of trolling, and encouraging more women to speak up. Harinder Bajwa even managed to personally interview an anti-secular troll with thousands of followers including the Prime Minister Modi. Sonam Kapoor recently joined the campaign after a huge gang of trolls paraded onto her twitter timeline. A petition by Chennai-based singer Chinmayi Sripada, asking Twitter for a large scale shutdown of accounts has also garnered close to 2 lac signatures.

As instances are rapid enough to develop laws around them, one would wonder why trolls do so in the first place? Where does the energy, the drive or perhaps the motivation come from?

To explore that, we first need to understand ‘Machiavellianism’. It was coined after the notorious Italian philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli, one of whose quotes say, “If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared.”

Termed as a personality trait marked by excessive focus on one’s own interests, a machiavellian would go beyond humane level to create misery. Found more in men than women, it is merely one of the many facets that mold a troll’s mind.

Trolling is bullying in making

In 2014, three Canadian researchers ran online personality assessments on 1200 people through a survey to examine their internet commenting styles. It was found that trolling strongly associates with seeking pleasure from an act of cruelty. We call it sadism, but here we’d call it ‘everyday sadism’, giving it a casual tone. Adding to that were found traits of machiavellianism, narcissism and psychopathy which together makes it a set called, Dark Tetrad.

The mental damage from bullying, whether online or in person, is almost similar, albeit received in a different setting of horror. While traditional bullying leaves the victim shattered, physically at times; cyberbullying establishes itself deeply into the victims leaving them decapitated of their individuality. Research has shown increasing symptoms of depression in cyberbullying compared to traditional bullying. Sure, the former’s mildness cannot be compared to the latter’s severity, but trolling is indeed a pre-manifestation of bullying and should be considered so by the authorities, as trolls characteristically relate themselves to bullies. But there is more to their behaviour and the reason they are emerging at this pace.

Anonymity is bliss

It gives an unusual strength. People post comments as anonymous as it allows them to be carefree of retaliation. The perks aren’t limited to such freedom. Having an electronic screen between the person making the post and the world outside demolishes identity, and at the same time lets the mind of the troll move freely to the extent of cursing and death threats. Psychologist, John Suler termed this as ‘online disinhibition effect’ which allows people to be more open behind a computer, but he also distinguished it from toxic disinhibition which doesn’t need an explanation.

Trolls are creative. Another reason why along with single twitteratis, there are equally numerous “humour” pages that engage in trolling to boom their retweets. You can spot them easily under Sonam’s tweet.

In an experiment by the Western Illinois University, 2 groups of students (with and without masks) were paid to walk around the campus with a board that says ‘masturbation is fun’, the group with bared-faces demanded more money than its masked counterparts. This also typically states why trolls are often nasty when they are concealed in a transformed identity and the crowd. Remember, when in group people are less likely to worry about the consequences of what they say.

Trolls aren’t worried about accountability.

Anonymity isn’t always an acting ingredient that defines a troll. When Virender Sehwag and Randeep Hooda joined forces against Gurmehar Kaur, they weren’t hiding behind a cloak. Sometimes, even death and rape threats aren’t sent anonymously. Logical thinking takes a back seat in this feature.

study by 3 US-based researchers (psychologists and political scientists) explains why people’s approach to issues and dissents isn’t thorough and rational when they know they aren’t going to be held accountable for their views.

Why does it apply to trolls? Because trolls often take simplistic ways to “call out” a complex opinion- ways that are articulated with cheap humor, threatening language and vicious ad-hominems- all of which is well received by the audience. This is why even self-proclaimed liberals were seen sharing these trolling tweets as “funny stuff”.

External motivation and a kick from masculinity.

When online, the ability to take risks, flourishes. Trolls aren’t a group of people alienated from society. Irresponsibility and false popularity are only two of the many extrinsic motivating factors. It is a misnomer that trolls target only celebrities, multiple surveys have found that women who express their opinions online via authorship or simply on Twitter/Facebook recieve more trolling comments and that too in extreme forms based solely on gender.

A threatened masculinity generates unthought and violent trolling when it comes to men, and the most horrid of expressions come from rape threats. However, it receives its motivation from a collective ignorance.

In 2014, Jezebel, a leading feminist media website publicly cornered Gawker media, their parent platform, for doing nothing about the continuous rape GIFs appearing in their comment sections. Trolls on Facebook have even taken on disability and casteist “jokes” in disguise of meme-making pages but community standards remain shockingly unviolated. There is little to no understanding of what constitutes as offensive and explicitly harmful in a said country or a culture. Trolls on the other hand learn the art irrespective of demographics.

Renowned websites are shutting down comments section in order to keep away from trolls. The decision does protect them but also halts discussions and debates that are significant parts of dissent. A screenshot is what it takes to tell a tale and trolls aren't to be mistaken for college-dropouts living alone in shady houses. They are mature, socially extroverted and educated on paper. Understanding is remedying. With more campaigns like #LetsTalkAboutTrolls, we not only drag them out in the open but also bring this type of malevolent behaviour to serious scrutiny.

Note: The views of the author are his own.

Source: This article was published on thenewsminute.com


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