LATELY, after reading an article or watching an online video, I’ve found myself swiftly scrolling down to the comments section. The same way that dessert is satisfying after dinner, discovering what the lunatic du jour has word-vomited all over the comments section is just delicious. And now there’s proof that these lunatics — aka “Internet trolls” — are in fact a little psycho.
If you need a refresher, an “Internet troll,” as defined by Urban Dictionary (not the most authoritative or trustworthy source on the web, but let’s just pretend for the sake of argument) is “a person whose sole purpose in life is to seek out people to argue with on the Internet over extremely trivial issues.” Basically, a mean jackass. And a Canadian study published in September says these Internet trolls’ behavior strongly correlates with the traits of sadists and psychopaths. If it looks a like a duck, and sounds like a duck, than it’s usually a duck. Or, in this a case, a dick.
Yes of course, there are both male and female trolls, but another recent study done by YouGov found that “men are more likely to get into a malicious argument than women.” And “malicious argument” is an understatement. Sure, everyone is entitled to their own opinions. But these virtual bullies, usually hiding behind faceless, mysterious aliases, go on commenting sprees that cross over into the city of Cray-Cray.
Take, for instance, this recent, harmless YouTube video featuring cats in their adorable Halloween costumes. A comment close to the top says “MAN all you commenters are f****** idiots.” Whoa buddy, relax. After a quick browse, there seemed to be a heated discussion about whether or not dressing up your animal in unnecessary garb causes cancer. Yes, dressing up you pets might not be for everyone, but there’s no reason to drop the F-bomb over some cats, nonetheless. Which illustrates one of the lesser-known aims of trolling: that trolls oftentimes try to engage non-trolls in debates/arguments over nonsensical and deliberately-aggressive statements, just to get them riled up, and then cackle like hyenas over their victims’ (justifiably incensed) reactions. Honestly, who in their right mind gets their kicks from f**king with other people for the hell of it?
And how about when it goes from being infuriating but essentially harmless to actually dangerous, like in the case of the most recent victim of some serious Internet trolling, female gamer critic, Anita Sarkeesian? She’s received rape and even death threats via Reddit, Twitter, and other message boards all due to her outspoken movement to update the female role in video games. One anonymous troll went so far as to email Sarkeesian threatening a “mass shooting” at Utah State University if she didn’t cancel her speaking engagement at campus, which was to be held October 15. This same troll also went onto say “feminists have ruined my life.” Cue the violins and the straight jackets people. Poor guy.
And it’s not as if all of these trolls are completely un-self-aware of their actions. Another part of YouGov’s study reported that “12 percent of posters admitted to having crossed the line so far that they have had their comment removed by a moderator,” (stop bragging already), and “28 percent of Americans admitted malicious online activity directed at somebody they didn’t know.” That doesn’t include the international trolls contributing on the World Wide Web. Trolling is a universally-understood language.
And while this study focused on mean online activity towards strangers, what’s there to say about the malicious online activity towards friends or family? Or exes?
“Malicious” might be a reach, but most people have engaged in not-so-nice online activity with somebody they did know. Possibly that political debate with your friend that gushes over Sarah Palin on Facebook, or that time you accidentally commented on a picture of your ex with his new girlfriend in a not-so-pleasant way. But that’s surely not psycho behavior. Right? Right.
The Internet, in general, seems to bring out the worst in some people. The instantaneous and anonymous nature of commenting gives sometimes-bored and sometimes-angry humans a platform to just let loose with no responsibility. So next time you are hassled by an Internet troll, AKA a sadist with psychopath tendencies, don’t let them get the best of you. Your silence will drive them crazy.