Trolling on the internet or cyber-trolling is online behavior to intentionally anger, hurt, or frustrate someone. It is purposely posting inflammatory messages or comments that are meant to provoke negative emotional reactions. Generally, internet trolling involves remarks related to bigotry, racism, misogyny, and just simple bickering. More recently, cyber-trolling has been equated to online harassment, which has become a very common behavior on the internet.
Cyber-trolling mostly takes place in online discussion forums and the comment sections of blogs. Off lately, a lot of cyber-trolling has been taking place on social networking sites, especially Twitter. Trolling taking the form of online harassment has become quite common on Twitter.
Many people have expressed their experience of the harassment that they have faced after posting a simple tweet. A lot of celebrities in the past couple of years have been constantly complaining about how trolls attack them with their venomous remarks for just expressing an opinion. The trolling becomes so hurtful that some even have decided not use Twitter at all or spend very little time on it.
Cyber-trolling, clearly, creates a lot of problems for its victims. In the form of cyber-trolling, people have faced humiliation, disgust, and even death threats. Such inflammation tends to be very disturbing and can lead to severe negative consequences to an individual’s mental health.
Communication on the internet has certain features that sometimes makes cyber-trolling to be a natural phenomenon. Some people use an anonymous identity, while communicating on the internet. Being anonymous makes them feel that they can say whatever they feel like and get away with it, without facing any consequences. This creates a reduced sense of public self-awareness.
Even if people are using their real identities on Facebook or Twitter, they still feel a reduced public self-awareness, due to a sense of obscurity. While interacting online, individuals feel that whatever they are saying is in the cyberspace and has little to do with the real life, where they have face-to-face interactions with people who they know and meet quite often.
Along with a reduced public self-awareness, individuals while communicating on the internet, due to social distance and often being alone in their own comfortable private space, feel a heightened sense of private self-awareness. This heightened private self-awareness also makes the person feel that he/she will not face any consequences of speaking his/her mind.
Both reduced public self-awareness and heightened private self-awareness together makes individuals feel little or no hesitation, while interacting online. The relative obscurity and social distance gives them a sense of power in which they feel they can say whatever they feel like. Quite often this lack of hesitancy makes them use inflammatory remarks, which they may perhaps resist during face-to-face interaction.
The perceived obscurity and social distance, during online interaction, also quite often makes people de-individuated from their individual identity and form a stronger online social identity. People often become a very different person on the internet. They behave differently in comparison to face-to-face interaction. This may make them a hostile and bigotry person on the internet, and get involved in cyber-trolling, when in actuality they may be calm and sensible.
The characteristics of reduced public self-awareness and heightened private self-awareness lead to the experience of cyberdisinhibition. Cyberdisinhibition refers to an inhibition in communication on the internet due to lack of social. The social brain – brain areas, mainly the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system, that act together and help in smoothening social interactions – gets activated in face-to-face interactions, due to receiving proper social cues in terms of facial expressions and body language.
The mirror neurons – neurons found in the social brain – are not able to function properly during online communication, and thus, lead to improper communication. The mirror neurons, in face-to-face interaction, get appropriate real-time feedback in the form of social cues. It is these social cues that help the mirror neurons to monitor individual’s and others responses, which enable appropriate social interaction.
The social cues being absent in online interaction make the mirror neurons unable to function properly, leading inappropriate communication, which often involves a lack of empathy. This lack of empathy, due to social cues being absent, causes people to indulge in hostility and harassment on the internet, in the form of cyber-trolling.
Apart from the characteristics of online communication, personality can also be a factor in cyber-trolling. For instance, the personality of passive aggressiveness can be associated with cyber-trolling. Research suggests that passive aggressive individuals thrive on the internet.
Passive aggressiveness is a deliberate and indirect expression of anger. Such behavior may usually be due to the fear of expressing anger directly. The relative obscurity and social distance on the internet can work as a mask to express anger.
For a person with passive aggressiveness, the internet becomes an appropriate medium to express their anger. Knowing that inflammatory remarks and comments on the internet are met with almost no consequences, such individuals easily become involved in behaviors like cyber-trolling.
Besides passive aggressiveness, sadism has also been found to be associated with cyber-trolling. Sadism is deriving pleasure in inflicting pain on others. Recent research suggests that internet trolls actually have sadistic tendencies. People who are involved in cyber-trolling have a lot of fun in the distress of others. They have no real purpose of expressing inflammatory remarks and causing disturbance on online discussion forums or sending hateful tweets. They simply like the idea of causing trouble to people on the internet.
This can be clearly seen when people troll celebrities on Twitter. Many people just get a high in sending extremely abusive and hurtful remarks at famous people. They see it as exciting and fun. Even in online discussion forums, some people see it as fun deviate from the main topic and hurl abuses for no reason. They very well know that they cannot be harmed for hurling such remarks and thus, they do so with pleasure.
Personality being a factor in cyber-trolling seems to be a plausible explanation. There are innumerable people who everyday interact on the internet. However, everyone does not get involved in cyber-trolling. Many people, in fact, are very polite, sensible, and intelligent on the internet. The characteristics of communication on the internet combined with personality of individuals can be seen as the possible causes of trolling on the internet.
Internet usage has become an integral aspect of everyday life. With the increase in internet usage, there has been an incessant rise in behaviors like cyber-trolling. A reduced sense of public self-awareness and heightened private self-awareness on the internet, cyberdishinibition, passive aggressiveness, and sadism can be seen as the causes of cyber-trolling.

Saif Farooqi

A PhD in Psychology (from the University of Delhi). I have been blogging about psychological issues for more than ten years. I am extremely passionate about teaching psychology. I'm a writer, podcaster, and TEDx speaker. I also conduct workshops and awareness programs in schools and colleges. Currently, I'm also working as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, India


Ami said...

Quite frankly, I think it is poor that trolls are allowed to run amok online. There should be harsh and immediate consequences for that type of behavior.

Smile said...

It's strange that same thing can be a boon and and bane. Public self awareness and private self awareness can lead the person to speak out mind which they can't because of anxiety, shyness, low confidence or not being comfortable but at the same time it leads to trolls. But I guess that's why its wisely said that every coin has two sides. Will written and informative.