Inside The Mind Of A Troll: 6 Things To Know About Cyberbullying

woman who is being trolled

In our May 2015 issue, we’ve got a piece exploring the rise of online bitchboards and threads. Spaces where anonymous commenters – or trolls as we now know them – go to pour out their feelings about bloggers, vloggers and Insta-stars, we examine the effect this is having on the bloggers themselves, and the motivation behind why you’d do such a thing.

Bernard Harris, a cyber and digital Consultant with Accenture, who also contributes, with a team of cyberpsychologists to, gave us some interesting insights into the mind of someone who loves to hate on others online.

What exactly is a troll?

Bernard says the definition is the following. “In Internet slang, a troll is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.”

But that definition has shifted in the public’s perception; now we associate the term with anyone who’s being, well, an asshole online.

And why do people do it?

“There can be many reasons behind the behaviour we now call trolling,” he says. “For example, there’ve been many studies on the relationship between our online activities and our self-esteem, our personality and how we behave in groups.”

But Bernard points to one key reason as to why people feel they can say whatever they like on the internet. “One area that’s been highlighted through numerous studies is the online disinhibition effect where users lose – or completely abandon – social restrictions, social norms and inhibitions that would otherwise be present in normal face-to-face interaction,” he says.

“This effect is caused by many factors, including dissociative anonymity, invisibility, asynchronicity, solipsistic introjection, dissociative imagination, and minimisation of authority.”

Users believe that their actions online don’t have any repercussions for them.

Do people who troll think their words have no effect?

Bernard reckons so. “This effect can lead to a user believing that their actions online don’t have any repercussions for them or for the other user they are communicating with, but we can see from a number of ‘trolling’ cases that this behaviour is taken very seriously.

He cites stricter sentencing rules in the UK and we’re now starting to see people go to prison as a result of their actions online. “This has now become a very serious theme in the cyberpsychology space,” he warns.

Is trolling getting worse?

“Unfortunately with the growth of social playgrounds like Facebook, Snapchat, and WhatsApp etc, and the pervasiveness of smartphones, we’ll potentially only see these behaviours increasing,” Bernard says.

‘Don’t fuel the fire’ – remember why the person is trolling in the first place.

Given that, how can we learn to cope with trolls?

“There are a number of things one can do,” he reassures. “The first is ‘don’t fuel the fire’ – remember why the person is trolling in the first place! Depending on where the troll is, report the behaviour to the site administrator – report as spam or report the user. Most good sites have this functionality. Lastly, if this has affected you in any way seek help, talk to friends and family about it. You are not alone and the online realm can be a mean place.”

What’s the bigger picture? What can we expect in the future?

It’s not all doom and gloom. “I hold a view that the potential to positively self-regulate the internet is possible, but research needs to catch up with the changes in technology that are happening so fast,” Bernard reveals.

No one is held responsible for their online actions.

“Governments and tech companies need to do more to in terms of regulation of content and ensuring safety online. Users are afraid of the word ‘regulate’ when it comes to online, but this is vital when it comes to what’s at stake – people’s mental and physical health.”

Bernard says that the biggest loophole – and get out of jail free card for a troll – is that no one is held responsible for their online actions. “This is slowly starting to change but whether the change is quick enough? Time will tell,” he states.

Have you been a victim of trolling or online bullying? Get in touch – email with your story.