Psychological Profile of an Internet Troll

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Ben Cohen
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internet troll

The Daily Banter has recently been hit up by internet trolls - individuals who spend hours and hours posting offensive and meaningless comments on people's articles for no apparent reason. We're monitoring the situation closely and may possibly change our commenting system if it continues. The comments are very bizarre and do make for some interesting reading (although not for long). The major perpetrators are two commenters calling themselves 'manbearpig' and 'samiam'.

Here's an example of a back and forth between the two of them:

samiam:

How many Jews can you fi in an ash tray?

1000000000000

Have you visited the new Chinese Jewish Restaurant on K street?

So Sue Me!!!

manbearpig:

Lagursky!!!! Lets meet in the chamber so u can stretch my ankle. Larry hates Lagursky and lagursky wont stop double dippin in the guac….

manbearpig:

Hey sam i am…lets watch the honeymooners and watch norton finger fuck burn and let oily eat betty rubbles snatch……did i mention my balls are eggshell smooth??

And that's probably the least offensive exchange between the two of them. The 'conversations' revolve around sexually explicit and racist topics that literally make no sense whatsoever. We've spent a good amount of time blocking both users from commenting, but they keep resigning up with new email addresses making it extremely difficult to stop them (short of switching the commenting system off altogether). For the time being, we're just going to delete the offensive comments and block their new user accounts. It's not hard to do from our publishing system and is extremely quick, whereas signing up for a new email address every day takes a good few minutes. We're hoping they get bored and disappear before we take more serious action against them (we know their IP addresses and can physically locate them). Sadly, I think we might be stuck with them for a while.

Much has been published on internet trolling and the psychology behind it, and the more you read about it, the more you can't help but feel sorry for them. From a piece in Salon examining the phenomenon of anonymous commenting:

“Social psychologists have known for decades that, if we reduce our sense of our own identity–a process called de-individuation–we are less likely to stick to social norms,” wrote Michael Marshall in New Scientist. “The same thing happens with online communication…Psychologically, we are ‘distant’ from the person we’re talking to and less focused on our own identity. As a result we’re more prone to aggressive behavior."....

Only a psychotic person, incapable of empathy, or someone perpetually engulfed by rage, would say such things in public. But people feel alone when they’re typing on a computer, even if they’re in a public “place” like a chat room on Facebook or the comments section of an article. MIT professor Sherry Turkle calls this ”being alone together”; the Internet causes “emotional dislocation,” so we forget about the together part.

It's clear from the language used by 'manbearpig' and 'samian' that they feel unrestrained and free when posting abusive comments on The Daily Banter - language they could not possibly use in everyday life without being committed to a psychiatric ward. Perhaps they find it therapeutic to air the repressed parts of their psyches without fear of real world consequences, or perhaps they derive pleasure from ruining a forum that is supposed to be for civilized debate. Perhaps it's both. It's clear though that behind the venom and aggression are clearly two extremely troubled individuals who are at risk of becoming dangerously removed from their actions.  An article in Health.com looks at the biological causes for this type of behavior:

Because humans are used to communicating in person, our brains are hard-wired to take in all manner of non-verbal cues such as gestures, facial expressions, tone and pitch of language as well as the pace at which people speak, explains Simon Rego, Psy.D., director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.

“When you move online, suddenly all those cues also removed,” he says. “You are stripped of the nonverbal cues, the patterns of speech, the rate, tone and context and you’re left with a lot of guesswork.”

And when humans are faced with guesswork and ambiguity, they often perceive it as threatening and react accordingly. This may have saved your life in prehistoric times but in modern times, it can mean an escalating series of jabs on Twitter ending in handcuffs and a stint in jail.

It would be easy and probably quite fun to get into a back and forth with 'manbearpig' and 'samian' - it's unlikely they are successful individuals with a lot going on in their lives (the atypical profile of a troll is either a socially awkward teenager or an underachieving middle aged divorcee), but I think some sympathy should be extended to them. I don't necessarily think they are bad people - just in need of some help and someone not on the internet to talk to.

I'm going to take this opportunity to ask them kindly to stop posting obscene comments on the site - we work very hard at The Daily Banter and have tried to build a site that fosters debate without name calling or abuse. It can be upsetting and deeply offensive to readers, and it isn't pleasant to have to go through the hundreds of horrible threads from our perspective either. It's a saddening experience and one we'd rather not have to deal with. The whole point of our existence is to bring  a light hearted conversational style of writing to topics that are considered 'serious' so that it is accessible to everyone. Offensive comments detract from the culture we're trying to build here and we really can't tolerate them. I'd prefer not to take any further action so please, try to understand how your comments might be affecting other people in the real world and stop.