– Original article by Paul Jun, via 99u.com > – Edited
A University of Manitoba study in September 2014 revealed what we already instinctively know about trolls: They just want to have fun.
It even went on to say that online trolls, whose behaviour extends from the digital world to the real, tend to manifest behaviours of sadism more so than psychopathy (the inability to feel empathy towards others, unemotional) or Machiavellianism (the tendency to manipulate or deceive others).
In a recent New York Times article entitled “The Agency”, journalist Adrian Chen recounted his experiences in St. Petersburg, Russia while following several leads on hoaxes which sprung from the Internet that he later on found out were campaigns spun by paid trolls.
The piece was a true eye-opener for the unaware, and the chilling twist at the end of Chen’s journey made us realize several points: one, anyone can fall prey to trolls; and two, more often than not, targets are not aware that they’re already getting played.
What is trolling?
Trolling is generally seen as a behaviour or an act of intentionally starting arguments meant to upset, defame, disrupt, or provoke.
This is done by posting off-topic remarks on social networks, the comments sections of online news outfits, forums, and chat rooms.
Although popular media equated trolling with online harassment, it shouldn’t be mistaken with cyberbullying.
Psychologists looked into and studied trolls in order to understand what makes them tick. Personality types emerged as a factor and so was environment.
On the Internet, anonymity and being with a faceless crowd can make people do and say things that they normally wouldn’t do or say under the watchful eye of polite society. Being able to act out, thanks to these, is what psychologists call deindividuation.
There are several faces of trolling, according to Netlingo, a highly popular Internet dictionary. They listed four types, which we replicated below:
- Playtime Trolls: an individual plays a simple, short game. Such trolls are relatively easy to spot because their attack or provocation is fairly blatant, and the persona is fairly two-dimensional.
- Tactical Trolls: This is where the troller takes the game more seriously, creates a credible persona to gain confidence of others, and provokes strife in a subtle and invidious [sic] way.
- Strategic Trolls: A very serious form of game, involving the production of an overall strategy that can take months or years to develop. It can also involve a number of people acting together in order to invade a list.
- Domination Trolls: This is where the trollers’ strategy extends to the creation and running of apparently bona fide mailing lists.
Know Your Meme, another popular domain, listed several ways of trolling, which you can read more here.
In recent years, we’ve seen trolls emerge from causing mischief to fulfilling a collective cause, under orders with a generous monetary compensation tied to it. Chen’s experience with paid or sponsored trolls is merely one of the few we’ve only heard or read about on the Internet.
Astroturfing, the deceptive tactic wherein an individual or a group would express support for a product, idea, or cause mainly for the purpose of reshaping public opinion, is currently practiced by some organizations in order to make people believe what they want them to believe.
One example is what we now know as the Discredit Bureau, which one Monsanto lead revealed they employ in order to discredit scientific findings that are in disagreement with the company’s.
State-sponsored trolls—who are also tactical trolls, in this case—can not only help disseminate false information but compromise security as well.
In the middle of 2012, Malware Intelligence Lead Adam Kujawa shared in a post that trolling tactics were used to lure Syrian activists to download and install a piece of software that claimed to encrypt Skype conversations.
This BlackShades variant was also capable of hijacking the affected user’s Skype account in order to spam the PIF download link to his/her contacts for further infection.
“Don’t Feed the Trolls”
We often hear people advice others to not react or resort to counter-punching trolls with equal vitriol.
Some find that doing this is not easy, and it never really is. Not feeding the trolls doesn’t mean one should take the abuse quietly either.
There are better ways to handle a troll encounter other than verbal retaliation.
Keeping calm, as a matter of fact, helps a lot. If needed, step back and take a break. We’re none the wiser if we react out of emotion. Realize that sabre rattling with trolls ends in futility as it is what they want to happen.
Moderate comments, block and blacklist trolling parties if you can. Majority of social networks have ready functions you can use to do this, and more.
Setting your profile to private (temporarily or permanently) is another way to nip trolling at the bud.
Falling for and (worse) propagating ideas spun by paid trolls can be seen as feeding or siding with them. More often than not, such thought-out and highly organized campaigns are not known until it’s too late. One way to avoid such pitfalls is to fact check what is being said. It’s easy for trolls to take advantage of people who usually believe what they see and what is said on the Internet. More often than not, people take these at face value and share it with others.
The study of trolls and trolling behaviour is, as of the moment, a premature science. We may not know a lot about it, but we know that they can fall under the category of social engineering. We also at least have an idea of what drives them to do and say things that are generally frowned upon.
As such, it’s important to keep them in mind when logging in to the Internet every day. Avoiding trolls is human, but not letting them into your head is divine. Find out how in ‘Tips to Deal With Trolls’, below.
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Tips to Deal With Trolls
Understand the Troll
To defeat the enemy, we must understand them first. There are two fundamental reasons why a troll trolls:
- They’re bored: Trolls lack stimulation “IRL” (in real life), for good or ill, so they seek it online where it’s readily available and easily acquired. A troll’s behavior reflects a deep insecurity so having someone respond to their words gives life meaning, regardless of how pathetic that may sound. If a troll had something better to do, like work or a hobby, they wouldn’t have time to troll. The next time you find yourself posting a negative comment think about why you’re doing it.
- They want attention: All a troll wants is you to turn the spotlight onto them. They want you to re-post their comment to your followers. They want you to write a blog post or status about them. They will use anything and everything to get it. They will criticize you, post inflammatory comments, or write remarks just to make you wonder how someone could be so dumb. The problem is that you will feel compelled to respond to “set things right.” Even if you respond in a cheerful or positive way, you’re still feeding the troll.
Why We Feed the Trolls and How to Stop
The reason we respond to negative comments is the same reason a troll does what they do: ego. When someone unknown comes at us, it’s part of our human nature to defend ourselves. A part of us doesn’t want to stay silent, because we think silence means surrendering, and surrendering means losing. That’s just a bad philosophy.
After years of dealing with this kind of behaviour, both in a virtual reality and in the comment sections of an article, the harsh reality is this: You will never beat a troll. You will never change a troll’s mind. You may delude yourself into thinking that you proved them wrong, however, never in years of dealing with trolls have we seen a troll lay down his or her arms and say, “You know what, you’re right. I was so wrong.”
Indeed, blowing off steam after dealing with a troll is our first reaction. It’s like driving: someone cuts you off, you feel disrespected, so you drive up next to the person’s window so you can see what they look like, or you flash some hand gestures to let them know that they aren’t getting away with it. What makes this practice of not responding to trolls so difficult is that many of us are naturally inclined to react to our impulses. It’s so much easier to respond than it is to hold back.
So a troll is attacking you. Ask yourself: If I respond to this troll, what will likely be the outcome? This requires us to pause and take a breath. We need to be mindful of what we’re telling ourselves after reading something that attacks our ego. What are we feeling and why? Are we angry because the troll’s comment contains validity? Have you seen this scenario before in other settings? These small shifts in our perception should influence us to not feed the trolls, to realize that any attempt to change a troll’s mind is an exercise of futility.
Talk to a friend
Sometimes we need to vent. No meditation or deep breathing exercises—just straight-up getting it off our chests.
Practice your principles
If you don’t have principles on how to deal with trolls, now is the time. The reason why abiding to principles is so helpful is because they tell us how to act. “Do this, not this.” It focuses on the long-term outcome, whereas acting on our impulses creates many possible—and unfavorable—results. If there is one thing we can learn both in psychology and philosophy, it’s this: No one can hurt you. It is what we tell ourselves about the specific event or person that creates the feeling. So if we’re telling ourselves, “How dare this person say this to me,” we’re creating feelings of entitlement and anger. In the words of Marcus Aurelius, “It can ruin your life only if it ruins your character. Otherwise it cannot harm you — inside or out.”
As we become more vulnerable online, the chances of being trolled increases. The more you ship and put yourself out there, the more likely you will come across people who despise or don’t understand your work. Because technology is maturing faster than we are, trolls will always exist and will feel compelled to sabotage you and your work. Why? Because they have nothing better to do. It rattles them to see you pursuing an artistic and worthy endeavor.
Is a world without trolls possible? Highly unlikely. So we must stop asking the impossible. Instead, we can follow the one principle that safeguards our creativity and productivity, and keeps the troll at bay. Whatever you do: Don’t feed the trolls.
Edited excerpts from ‘Don’t Feed the Haters: The Confessions of a Former Troll’ – Original article by Paul Jun, via 99u.com >