“You need people like me. You need people like me so you can point your fuckin’ fingers and say, ‘That’s the bad guy.’ So… what that make you? Good? You’re not good.” (Scarface)
At least that is what trolls would want you to think, and quoting Scarface is giving them way too much credit. Instead you can read a quote from one of the trolls themselves: “Am I the bad guy? Am I the big horrible person who shattered someone’s life with some information? No! This is life. Welcome to life” (Jason Fortuny quote within The Trolls Among Us). The similarity of the sociopathic nature of both of these quotes is staggering.
This is not Fluffy, but he is indeed a destroyer of worlds (Image from The Trolls Among Us).
So what is it about the Internet that can influence an average person into displaying a lack of empathy and sympathy comparable to a drugged out drug smuggler/dealer? Turns out it is a single word: deindividuation, or otherwise known as the online disinhibition effect. This is when anonymity causes those exercising it to become detached or withdrawn from social norms. So does this mean that the Internet is the cause of such an effect? Not really. I agree with the article The Trolls Among Us in that this effect draws upon “the destructive human urge that many feel but few act upon.” It brings out the closet sociopaths, the social sadists within certain people. Your own virtual doppelganger that you think you do not have to account for.
Another darker you (Image from How the Internet created an age of rage).
But what can be done about this? Well, that has been a tough question to answer that I like to think lies somewhere between two extremes: eliminating anonymity on the Internet entirely, or doing nothing at all. The argument for eliminating anonymity hinges on accountability. A “I bet you would not say that to my face” situation. When everything you say is attached to your name you tend to think harder on what you are going to say. Especially the repercussions to such responses. Where Anonymity Breeds Contempt contains some examples of supporting this solution. However, the opposing argument is summed up well by Jeffrey Wells quote from How the Internet created an age of rage: “Why would you take that one in 100 chance that your mother or a future employer will read what you were thinking late one night a dozen years ago if you didn’t have too?” These are large repercussions to what could be one comment that you might not remember anymore. In fact, there are examples of people losing their jobs and relationships from information leaked by “trolls” in The Trolls Among Us. Although these examples were malicious attempts on unsuspecting people, “trolls” are not exceptions to this rule so to speak e.g. Jason Fortuny now forever paranoid.
Nothing but attention hogs (Image from http://www.aspuriandigital.co.uk/guide-dealing-social-media-attacks-business).
This is why I believe the answer lies somewhere in-between. I think something akin to a social filter so to speak can handle this just fine. A simple solution would be a like/dislike system that hides comments above a certain number of dislikes. I am actually surprised Facebook does not have this system currently in place as it already has a like button. Now this does not fix all of the problems, for example those who take “trolling” farther than just offending comments, but I find it to be a nice compromise between sustaining anonymity and filtering comments without the need for a large amount of moderators who constantly need to throw themselves in the line of fire. Plus, not all comments are malicious. However, there definitely needs to be some new, or at least reevaluated, laws against the more extreme cases of “trolling” such as stalking, cyberbullying, and harassment. At that point I think it is safe to say that this is no longer “trolling” and hiding behind that word is just cowardly. The best solution is also seemingly the simplest, but the hardest: “Trolling will stop only when its audience stops taking trolls so seriously” (Jason Fortuny quote within The Trolls Among Us). Attention hogs are good at gathering attention.
Where do you think the solution lies? Do you agree that the problem lies much deeper than the Internet itself rooted within a dark part of the human psyche? How long do you think the Internet will remain a catalyst, or the cause, of this behavior?