Trolls. Occasionally, they are good, such as the new troll on the new Bay Bridge. But most of the time — and especially on the Internet — trolls are bad news. The Dearborn News Herald described it best: “trolls are relatively anonymous people who web surf comment sections of websites with the intent of aggravating others with their “witty” remarks. Trolls range from people who think they’re funny to those merely trying to fire up others by being intentionally offensive. Racist comments are often offered up because it is a quick way to offend. The same goes for deliberately ridiculous remarks involving politics, religion, sports and just about every hot-button topic.”.
I’ve written in the past about how attacks in comments bother me. We’ve seen more and more media publications come out against trolls. Using Facebook as a commenting system to address anonymous trolls helps a little, although these folks just create Facebook accounts under a false name and a throwaway email address. Other folks are trying other systems to combat trolls in an attempt to recreate useful comment sections.
What bothers me most is that trolls can kill. Today’s news — and what prompted this rant — was the story of a Florida girl who was found dead after being hounded and hounded and hounded by Internet bullies. These bullies pushed this young girl to the point where she took her own life. This isn’t an isolated story. This article note a number of other people driven to suicide by online trolls (warning: the site is obnoxious and keeps opening a noisy ad video). Despite all attempts to fight it, the culture of bullying (especially on the Internet) is growing and growing. Some are trying to fight it, but isn’t enough.
A report I saw this morning (h/t to Andrew Ducker) gives one possible reason. A new study has revealed that sadism is far more common than we would like to believe. Just as we (ourselves) are good, we want to believe that everyone else is good and does not want to inflict pain. The study shows otherwise. Two studies led by psychological scientist Erin Buckels of the University of British Columbia revealed that people who score high on a measure of sadism seem to derive pleasure from behaviors that hurt others, and are even willing to expend extra effort to make someone else suffer. These researchers recruited 71 participants to take part in a study on “personality and tolerance for challenging jobs.” Participants were asked to choose among several unpleasant tasks: killing bugs, helping the experimenter kill bugs, cleaning dirty toilets, or enduring pain from ice water. Of the 71 participants, 12.7% chose the pain-tolerance task, 33.8% chose the toilet-cleaning task, 26.8% chose to help kill bugs, and 26.8% chose to kill bugs. Consider that. Over half chose forms of bug killing. Participants who chose bug killing had the highest scores on a scale measuring sadistic impulses, just as the researchers predicted. The more sadistic the participant was, the more likely he or she was to choose bug killing over the other options, even when their scores on Dark Triad measures, fear of bugs, and sensitivity to disgust were taken into account. The results suggest that sadists possess an intrinsic motivation to inflict suffering on innocent others, even at a personal cost — a motivation that is absent from the other dark personality traits.
Yom Kippur starts this evening. This is a great time to increase our resolve against sadists on the Internet. Let’s start by dropping this troll moniker and calling them what they are: bullies and sadists. Let us vow not to bully in our conversations, and vow not to give any pleasure to the sadists. I’m open to suggestions on how to fight them.