By TOM HENRY
as published in the November 19, 2016 edition of the Blytheville Courier News
“Trolls are slow in the uptake, and mighty suspicious about anything new,” J.R.R. Tolkien
Perhaps some of you have spent a great deal of your life looking for gold at the end of your rainbow, leprechauns, unicorns and other mythical things. You probably haven’t actually found them, but good luck. However, I can say with certainty that there is one type of mythical creature that you will not only find terrorizing Tolkien’s Middle Earth, but also here in Blytheville. That creature is the dreaded troll.
When I speak of “trolls” I am not speaking of the fabled, cave-dwelling creatures of folklore, but I am speaking of a creature equally ugly. A “troll” is someone that preys on social media sites, looking for opportunities to strike with deliberately offensive or provocative statements designed to lure others into an angry response. For some deranged reason, trolls get immense enjoyment out of doing so.
Joel Stein, in the August 29, 2016 edition of Time, wrote an article called, “Why we’re losing the Internet to the culture of hate: how trolls are ruining the Internet.”
In his article, Stein writes, “They’re turning the web into a cesspool of aggression and violence. [And] what watching them is doing to the rest of us may be even worse.”
He also added that a Pew Research Center survey showed that 70-percent of 18-to-24-year olds that use the Internet have experienced harassment personally online.
A 2014 study in the psychology journal Personality and Individual Differences performed a study “looking for evidence that linked trolling with the ‘Dark Tetrad’ of personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism.”
The September 18, 2014 online article entitled “Internet Trolls are Narcissists, Psychopaths and Sadists: Trolls will lie, exaggerate and offend to get a response” reported that the study showed that “Dark Tetrad” scores were highest for those that said trolling was their favorite Internet activity. Every other segment of the population scored much lower. But with self-identified trolls, all four scores were extremely high. In fact the direct relationship between trolling and those traits are extremely linked.
The authors of the study wrote, “…the associations between sadism and GAIT (Global Assessment of Internet Trolling) scores were so strong that it might be said that online trolls are prototypical everyday sadists…both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others. Sadists just want to have fun…and the Internet is their playground.”
So, why have I written this column? I have written this column for three reasons. The first reason is to show how important it is for parents to take time to teach their children how to behave in the community known as the Internet (and believe me it is as real a community as anywhere else on the planet). The second reason is to give some practical advice on what to do when “bitten” by a troll. Lastly, I desire to show trolls that may read this that they need help. They are not the normal, mainstream, balanced, functioning people that they believe themselves to be and their behavior is not acceptable.
We teach our children how to behave at home, especially in temperament and language. We also teach them how to behave around their elders or at church. We teach them how to be quiet at the library or theater, how not to throw a tantrum at Wal-Mart and even how to behave at the grocery store.
So how much more should we teach them how to behave in the largest public forum community ever created – the Internet? It is infinitely more important. Not only because of the exponential likelihood of being misunderstood or offended by someone from another geographical or cultural location, but also because people tend to be more outspoken while at the same time more isolated while online. Cyberbullying is a very real thing that all too often has lasting and even deadly consequences.
Those trolls that precipitate a young teen’s suicide are just as guilty of murder, in my humble opinion, as they would be if they had shot them with a gun.
So what do we do when “bitten” by a troll?
This may sound strange, but we have to ignore them using “child psychology” and the “sticks and stones” method. Trolls feed on, grow from, multiply to and most of all enjoy rejoice in angry responses. When we respond, we give them the fuel they need and crave. If they don’t get an angry response, they will eventually keep moving until they find one that will give them their desired reward.
Admittedly, it is very difficult to have thick skin, ALMOST impossible at times, but it is truly the only way. There are also online tools such as banning, blocking, silencing, de-friending, etcetera that can be employed to cut them off from contacting you. Lastly, if trolled by multiple people, perhaps you should stop visiting the website, forum, group or page.
Now clearly there are many other means of Cyberbullying, such as by mobile phones, text messages, Snapchat, Periscope…and the list goes on and on with no end. But that is beyond the scope of this column.
Now, if you are a troll. Stop being a jerk. Your behavior is not funny, amusing or a small deal. If you are a cyber bully you are probably not good at one-on-one personal relationships. That is too bad. I challenge you to follow the golden rule and “do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” And step away from the keyboard long enough to develop some real, meaningful personal relationships. Add joy to your everyday life and you’ll see that the so-called joy of attacking others online is not joyful at all; it’s pathetic.
So, if you are experiencing Cyberbullying and don’t know what to do, visit www.stopbullying.gov/get-help-now/.