The Troll. An interesting term for a “past-time” which is as old as social etiquette. It is not particularly nice and in recent times has seen a lot of media exposure. The increase in electronic telecommunications and global social networking has made the work of a Troll far easier, and the effects more extreme.
Celebrities have always been the targets for tabloid Trolls; movie stars, politicians, athletes, anyone with even a hint of fame. You find it in the school yard where it is called bullying or teasing. It’s all the same. Someone trying to manipulating the emotions and confidence of another through meaningless slander, falsehoods, threats of violence, belittling and more.
Quite frequently the attacks are “anonymous” or from a falsified identity. Rarely does the Troll attack using their own identity. Most seek the apparent safety of lies and deceit, making wide and often baseless attacks from shadows. Often it is not even anyone we know but some obscure stranger from the other side of the world getting a kick out of upsetting some random stranger, goading them to react.
It’s a form of attention seeking, not much unlike the screaming tantrums that a child throws in a supermarket when mummy doesn’t let them have that thing on the shelf. The main difference here is that the kid is wanting the thing, what-ever it may be, while the adult is wanting the attention. Most of the time.
I am simplifying the matter of course. Regardless of the intention behind the Troll, it is the effect they have that resonates the most.
We humans are sensitive people craving approval much of the time. We are pack animals living in a society that expects us to segregate and lead insulated lives. This makes us vulnerable to criticism, especially when it is delivered without explanation or understanding. For some reason, we as a people, tend to remember and cling to the negative, whilst ignoring or overlooking the good and well-intended. In a similar manner, we all appear to love complaining about things, and find it difficult to compliment each other, or even ourselves.
This is the very weakness that Trolls exploit, and someone will always rise to their baiting. In a way, we have been conditioned to, or it is human nature to (which ever way you prefer to see it.) So the Troll is ensured of his “fix” of power, eventually. Well, that is how I see it. In seeking attention, the classic Troll endeavours to manipulate the emotions of others around them, by stating the obviously foolish, insulting, derogatory or inflammatory. Most prefer the apparent “security” of the shadows, attacking from their hidy-holes of anonymity on the net. Some are more brazen and actually make a past-time of their odd desires. Some again are actually paid to do it through very odd contractual services. There have been cases where Trolls are hired by someone, who is clearly not brave enough to do the Trolling themselves. This does not include the professional Trolls we see and hear in the media, often on reality TV.
What example can be expected to be taken, when we see people hired to be offensive, or Trollish, in high-profile roles (TV or Radio hosts)? It could be taken that such Trollish behaviour is then to be glorified, and something to aspire to. These types are “loved” by the media, especially when they make some big, stupid, thoughtless comment. They are famous, and a ratings winner, a lure which can always be guaranteed to attract certain types people.
So we see the sad, tragic tales of suicides because of Cyber and Real-time Bullying, perpetrated by Trolls of one definition or another. People of all ages, and all walks of life, suddenly the target of thoughtless juveniles, for the simplest of reasons. Well meaning and good people are often unprepared for what they have to confront, and are overwhelmed with the self-damaging confirmation of all their fears in the meaningless words of faceless ghosts. Some Trolls even relish the terminal resolution to their efforts, continuing to exercise their Trollish behaviour on memorial sites, most likely in the hope of luring yet another victim.
I too have been the target of Trolls. A person in my chosen line of work is unlikely to be able to avoid them. It hurts to think that someone out there could possibly think these things about you… except that more often than not, I had absolutely no idea who they were. The uncertainty as to the reasons why, and the identity of my “critique”, let alone any constructive detail that I might actually find useful, was hard to take. It burned deep.
Back tracking just a little, as a child I abhorred aggression and violence, and as such, I tended to retreat inwards rather than fight back. I tended to NOT react. In a way, I think this actually helped me as I found my natural tendency to a Trollish comment was to not respond immediately and emotionally, but to retreat to a safer, emotional distance. By the time I had recomposed myself, I had enough time to analyse the situation a little. While my heart hurt, my head began to point out some glaring points;
- It was non-specific. Other than being about me, it often was not really about anything in particular, just a very general, non-specific personal attack.
- It was emotionally charged. Lacking any form of rational dialogue, it was simply emotionally charged terminology, who’s purpose was to evoke an emotional reaction.
- It was anonymous. It is very easy to throw slander when your face is not visible. While I would not even desire to be slanderous at all, I do see the advantages of hiding in the shadows.
- It was without structure. Often, Trollish statements repeated themselves, or contradicted themselves, moving in odd circles on itself.
Emotionally, it was nasty. Rationally, it had no substance, meaning, or function to me. What was I meant to do with such rantings? It took me some time, and I eventually began to see a Troll as a type of fisherman, throwing out a hook baited with a taunt. When they get a bite, they tease their catch in closer and closer. Little taunting tugs, evoking stronger and stronger emotional reactions, until the victim is so strung out with emotion, they snap, exhausted from the emotional onslaught. So the trick to not getting reeled in is to not take that first bite.
Taking the analogy of a fisherman, if the goal is to land a fish, then they will be disappointed to walk away with nothing. Or perhaps the tantrum child is more appropriate. On approach to curbing tantrums, is to not reward them. The Trolls goal is to make someone break. The punishment is to with-hold the goal. Instead, become a compassionless detective, slowly gathering evidence, or the duck who’s feathers repel water, remaining focused on their own personal goals regardless.
If you have read this far, then well done. This is a rather long post so I would not blame you for cutting short. Dealing with Trolls is not easy, yet it can be done. A good support network, a balanced approach to Social Media, and realising that they see you as a toy to play with, are things that I have found help me a lot. Oh, and one more thing, know that you are good enough.