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Internet trolls and how they can ruin your day

My first memories of trolls were delightful and endearingly innocent. I was 12, going out of my wits thinking of a gift for my crush’s upcoming birthday. I already bought a gaudy pink teddy bear and some overly fragrant stationery when my father pulled through and saved me from pubescent mediocrity. He brought home a Troll – the furry, up-combed hair doll beloved by many kids – and encouraged me to give that to her instead. It was different, it was unexpected, and it was a hit with my crush. With one gift, my father taught me not only to think creatively but also to inject humor into romance, which would be very useful in my life later on.trollmb6

Nowadays, no one would associate innocence, fondness, and goodwill with the term Troll. The Urban Dictionary defines an Internet troll as “someone who posts controversial, inflammatory, irrelevant or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum or chat room, with the primary intent of provoking other users into an emotional response or to generally disrupt normal on-topic discussion.” To be more blunt, being a troll means “being a prick on the internet because you can.”

While the mythological troll is often pictured as an ugly, filthy, enraged creature that lives in dark places (caves, for example, or under bridges) that preys on an unsuspecting victim, the Internet troll exhibits some similar traits. The modern-day monstrosity hides behind a computer screen, and is often angry and disruptive. And yes, both fiends would harass and harm anyone that passes them by for no good reason.

If you’ve ever spent time online and on social media, there’s a good chance you’ve already encountered a Troll. After all, what psychologists call as ‘the online disinhibition effect’ (where anonymity, invisibility, absence of authority, and not communicating in real time have all but obliterated acceptable behavior) has increased their numbers exponentially. Nowadays, trolls can be found in any news site, all across YouTube, plaguing blogs, and spewing contemptible things all over social media.

But to be clear, having a different opinion from what is prevalent does not automatically equate to trolling. Just because you defend a politician who was being criticized at an opinion piece, for example, does not make you a troll. However, you are exhibiting monstrous, troll-like characteristics if you:

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 Post Hateful Content

These days, if you post a question on the Internet on how to build a custom chip for your PC, you’d probably have a dozen or so helpful tips and links within the hour. But if you make the mistake of lamenting how your depression is affecting your work, you’d probably have comments like “Save the drama. Kill yourself” peppering your post. It’s a mad, mad world.

People who also churn out disproportionate responses to things posted online can be a troll. If you’ve ever read an article with a misleading title and your reaction was to tell the author that he should have never been born, you’ve got a problem.

Another sign that you’re a troll is if you end up saying stupid macho stuff online that you would never dare say in person. I know the Internet affords an outlet, but pretending to be tough online is just plain pathetic.

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 Harass/Threaten

Women have it bad on the Internet. Take Leslie Jones as an example. She received heinous racist and sexist threats on her Twitter and email accounts, and even had a photo of her with someone’s semen splattered on it for her singular sin of being one of the women leads of the latest Ghostbusters movie. And Leslie Jones isn’t alone. Women in gaming, women in leadership positions… any women who had a thought in her mind and had the audacity to put it online are barraged every day with genuinely scary, disturbing threats. Weak people became vocal about their misogyny thanks to the freedom the Internet provides.

Locally, we experience the same idiocy when we venture in the realm of politics. Regardless of whether you support President Duterte or not, it is NEVER acceptable to refute a criticism by saying, “you should get raped to death”. There’s no other word for it – it’s evil.

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Disregard Facts

If someone counters your argument by stating facts (not opinion) and your first instinct was to think that that person was a shill or that the opposing viewpoint is automatically stupid, I have bad news for you: you’re probably a troll. Blatant disregard of facts or automatic animosity to anything contrary to your beliefs is a classic example of trollish behaviour.

The next time something challenges your viewpoint, welcome the opportunity. After all, no one will learn anything new if all that we do is listen to things we already know. And if you retain your original position despite sincere consideration of counterarguments, then congratulations – you’ve strengthened your beliefs. It’s a win-win.

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PRANK for the LOLZ

Trolls are known for disrupting discussions “for the lolz”. But that’s a perversion of what trolling used to be. In the old days, trolling was more akin to playful, albeit annoying, behavior. It was closer to a comedic prank rather than the despicable acts of harassment, stalking, and threats customary to what we can find online today.

Take Jon Hendren who trolled cable news network HLN when they asked him to participate in a supposed to be serious discussion about Edward Snowden – and then spent the interview talking about Edward Scissorhands. Alternet.org postedHendren’sdefense: “I do think Edward [Snowden] is a great guy and he should be pardoned in all these things, but I am not the person to talk about that on television,” Hendrensaid. “It’s just a bad decision. I decided to try to highlight how bad of a decision that was,” he added.

Now, trolls who actively disrupt and wreak havoc on threads and forums may also claim that they’re doing it for the ‘lolz’, but that’s a lazy, and often ostensible lie. At the end of it, the only person who’s laughing is the troll. He masquerades his cruelty as humor.

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Vanquishing Trolls

Internet trolls are so pervasive nowadays that even something as straightforward as writing about them can be a bad idea. They feed on attention, and an article about trolls can smell like honey to a bear.

Dealing with trolls can be a tricky endeavor. The Internet is the realm of the craven, and trolls are primarily all about loud sounds masking the lack of sense. Sometimes, speaking truth to stupid works – not everyone actively chooses to be a troll, our emotions just get caught up in the heat of debates. But that’s not the norm. What usually happens is a troll just keeps spewing his toxicity, dragging down the discourse or derailing it altogether, despite dumping an avalanche of facts that dispute his claims.

Some say humor is an effective tool – the devil, after all, cannot stand it when we laugh at him. But humor, real humor, requires sharp wit and the ability to laugh at oneself, which, sadly, isn’t something we all have.

Deleting the troll’s comments (if you’re the admin) is another option. No one would miss the senselessness, and deleting the comment may even be prudent if the comments already passed the side of infuriating to the dark regions of outright evil (threats, etc.). Personally, however, censorship is a big, black line that I’d rather not cross.

As such, the prevailing wisdom when dealing with trolls is to simply ignore them. Don’t feed the trolls. Since attention is what the troll craves, paying no heed to his infuriating claims will deny him what he needs. Engaging a troll only adds fuel to the fire; consequently, being overlooked is the troll’s kryptonite. It is therefore wise to capitalize on the troll’s weakness and negate his strengths.