“Fail at life. Go bomb yourself.” Comments such as this one, found attached to a CNN article about how women perceive themselves, are prevalent today across the internet, whether the location is Facebook, Reddit, or a news website. Such commenting behavior can range from profanity and name-calling to personal attacks, sexual harassment, or hate speech.
A recent Pew Internet Survey found that 4 out of 10 people online have been harassed on the internet, with far more having witnessed such behavior. Trolling has become so rampant that several websites have even resorted to completely removing comments.
Many believe that trolling is solely done by a small, vocal minority of sociopathic individuals. This belief has been reinforced not only in the media, but also in past research on trolling, which focused on interviewing these individuals. Some studies even showed that trolls have predisposing personal and biological traits, such as sadism and a propensity to seek excessive stimulation.
Nonetheless, much more work is still needed to address trolling. Understanding the role of organized trolling can limit some types of undesirable behavior.
Trolling also can vary in severity, ranging from swearing to targeted bullying, and each level of severity necessitates a different response.
It’s also important to differentiate between the impact of a troll comment and the author’s intent: Did the troll mean to hurt others, or was he or she just trying to express a different viewpoint? This distinction can help separate undesirable individuals from those who just need help communicating their ideas more effectively.
When online discussions break down, it’s not just sociopaths who are to blame. We are also at fault. Many “trolls” are just people like ourselves who are having a bad day. Understanding that we are all responsible for both the inspiring and the depressing conversations we have on the internet is key to having more productive online discussions.
Understanding that we are all responsible for both the inspiring and the depressing conversations we have on the internet is key to having more productive online discussions.
In everyday life it's called "having fun."
Ordinary people can be influenced to troll; such behavior can end up spreading from person to person. A single troll comment in a discussion...can result in even more troll comments being made elsewhere. As this negative behavior continues to propagate, trolling can end up becoming the norm in communities.
...Provocative trolls serve to rock the boat and to challenge social norms. A provocative troll will look for weaknesses in the prevailing view and poke at them. The purpose of the provocative troll is to upset group think and to challenge the closely held opinion of the social group...