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Psychology of an Internet Troll

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The editors at Best Online Psychology Schools decided to research the topic of:

Psychology of an Internet Troll

Psychological Impairments of the Average Troll:

- Deindividuation: when we reduce our sense of our own identity we are less likely to stick to social norms.
- "suicide baiting" study showed that when someone threatening to jump from a high building they were encouraged to do so by bystanders
- people were more likely to do this if they were part of a large crowd, if the jumper was above the 7th floor, and if it was dark.
- (factors that allowed the observers to lose their own individuality)
- Social psychologist Nicholas Epley: Psychologically, we are "distant" from the person we're talking to and less focused on our own identity in an e-mail. As a result we're more prone to aggressive behaviour.
- #cut4bieber brought to you by Troll DutchMinati is an example of this - (the social experimenting troll)

Dissociative anonymity: You don't know me

- simple anonymity: provides a sense of protection,
- this allows the user to move about without any kind of indication of identity or even distinguishing characteristics other than potentially a username.
- allows for misrepresentation of a person's true self;
- eg online a male can pose as a female and vice versa
- However, even if one's identity is known and anonymity is removed from the equation, the inability to physically see the person on the other end causes one's inhibitions to be lowered.
- eg the Real Housewives of New Jersey Facebook page's hateful comments about Milania Guidice, the five-year-old daughter of a Real Housewives cast member.- comments from people whose names were attached to their Facebook accounts.
- Linda L Goolsby, a grandmother of seven wrote: "there is nothing cute about her, she is ugly inside and out. she has the worst mother and father there ever is."

Asynchronicity: See you later

- conversations do not happen in real time.
- it's easier for someone to "throw their opinions out" and then leave
- a person can make a single post that might be considered very personal, emotionally charged, or inflammatory and then "run away"
- In this way, the person achieves catharsis by "voicing" their feelings, even if the audience is just as invisible.
- Dr. David Solly at University of the Rockies, a graduate school specializing in social and behavioral sciences, says complaining -- be it on the Web or alone in front of a mirror -- releases of chemicals in the brain and body helping us to counteract stress and feel physically better.
- It also tends to make us feel better emotionally because we feel we're more in control of our circumstances.
- No excuses! the asynchronous nature of the Internet also allows a person to choose their words carefully (the bitching troll)

Solipsistic Introjection: It's all in my head (and the creation of a stalking troll)

- Lacking any kind of visual face-to-face cues, the human mind will assign characteristics and traits to a "person" in interactions on the internet.
- solipsistic introjection can help individuals bond or identify with others in a given community.
- The mind will associate traits to a user according to our own desires, needs, and wishes - traits that the real person might not actually have.
- allows fantasies to be played out in the mind (the stalker troll)

Dissociative Imagination: It's just a game/ I don't know you

- a feeling of escapism is produced
- a way to throw off mundane concerns to address a specific need without having to worry about consequences.
- lawyer Emily Finch (a criminal lawyer studying identity theft in cyberspace): people may see cyberspace as a kind of game where the normal rules of everyday interaction don't apply to them.
- Similarly, a famous 1960s-era study found that people were willing to administer an electric shock (it was fake, but they didn't know it) to a person they couldn't see, even if they knew it was causing them serious pain
- Later replications of Milgram's studies found that his conclusion was less likely to be true if people identified more strongly with the student receiving the shocks.
- when humans are faced with guesswork and ambiguity, they often perceive it as threatening (thus the creation of the angry, hurtful troll)
- example: Michael Butsch (aka Violent Acrez) of Reddit Infamy

Minimizing Authority: You're Not So Great Yourself

- Oppositional Defiance Disorder - affects 16% of the general public in the U.K. or 20% schoolage children in the U.S.
- lack of hierarchy causes changes in interactions with others.
- If people can't see the user, others have no way to know if the user is an on-duty police officer, head of state, or some kind of "ordinary" person hanging out in their den on their computer.
- people can be reluctant to speak their minds in front of an authority figure, but that fear is removed online
- must have the last word (the professorial, know-it-all troll)

Narcissism: I speak for you

- People with extreme views who are extremely loud about them manage to delude themselves into thinking everybody agrees.
- Study w/ Stanford University students showed that students who thought they spoke for the majority expressed their opinions more readily.
- Of course, trolls not in this category won't care if they're majority opinion or not (the self-righteous troll)
- exampe: Jai Maharaj on discussion boards of usenet

Lost in translation: Miscommunication common

- text-based messages are inherently more ambiguous
- one man's joke is another man's insult (the obnoxious class clown troll)
- example: David Thorn, who tried to pay a bill with pictures of Spider

How to Psych Out Your Troll

- In order to establish a rigorous study of trolls, University of Central Lancashire lecturer Claire Hardaker studied nine years worth of unmoderated comments (including 172 million words) from a forum about horses. In summarizing the behavioral patterns Hardaker wrote:Trolling can
- be frustrated if users correctly interpret an intent to troll, but are not provoked into responding
- be thwarted if users correctly interpret an intent to troll, but counter in such a way as to curtail or neutralise the success of the troller,
- fail if users do not correctly interpret an intent to troll and are not provoked by the troller
- succeed if users are deceived into believing the troller's pseudo-intention(s), and are provoked into responding sincerely.
- Finally, users can mock troll. That is, they may undertake what appears to be trolling with the aim of enhancing or increasing effect, or group cohesion.
- Sources: