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Trolling: When our worst impulses come to the fore

By Kim Fischer - 9 June 2016 17

trolls

With the recent news that a chiropractor has been charged after allegedly leaving racist comments on Senator Nova Peris’ Facebook page, it is fascinating to analyse the mindset of people who feel the need to insult, belittle, and degrade others online.

Clearly many people feel social media is an outlet for expressions and feelings they must keep repressed in their “real world” lives.

The existence of “internet trolls” has been documented since the mid-1990s. Classic troll behaviour came from people who used anonymous accounts as a way to avoid identification. The anonymity implies that people knew what they are writing was transgressive and took steps to avoid accountability for their actions.

Now though we are seeing more people post things online without making any attempt to hide their identity. With 65% of Australians using Facebook at least once a month, Facebook has become the de facto standard for many of the casual conversations that used to happen in pubs, bars, and backyards. Facebook’s real name policy means it is mostly very easy to work out the identity of people making these posts.

People posting racist, sexist or other offensive comments are increasingly facing real-world consequences. After poorly-thought out posts we have seen hotel supervisors fired for insulting a columnist, sports presenters sacked for Anzac Day tweets, airport workers sacked for pro-ISIS comments, and teachers fired for writing about taking drugs.

nova-trolling

After the fact, many people claim that the posts were “just a joke” or “taken out of context” or even that “someone hacked my computer”. While not excusing their behaviour, they may have been subject to what the US psychologist Dr John Suler calls the online disinhibition effect. Suler outlines six reasons why people feel free to say things online that they would not in person:

  1. We are anonymous – When we are anonymous we feel disconnected from our normal personality. Some people even consider their online personality to be an alter ego.
  2. We are invisible – Since others can’t see us, we can mask emotional signals of distress, fear, etc. This can allow people to say things online that they wouldn’t be able to face to face.
  3. We don’t see responses straight away – We don’t read what others write at the same point in time, and responses may take time to appear. This allows people to write without fear of immediate judgement (and may never see responses at all).
  4. We make up who others are – When we are interacting with others online, we often simply invent our perception of who someone else is. This may allow us to justify nastiness to others on the basis of this imagined personality
  5. We don’t see it as real – Online activities can seem to be insubstantial or “just a game”. This is particularly common with some of the nastiest trolls who turn out to be teenagers.
  6. We don’t fear punishment – Many places on the Internet have no obvious authority figures to control our behaviour, or the punishments for transgression seem minimal (eg being banned from a forum).

All of these factors encourage people to act out, often impulsively – even if the long-term impacts are serious. We are used to operating in environments where social disapproval and punishment is a real and tangible threat. When these are taken away sometimes our worst impulses come to the fore.

This is not an easy problem to solve.

What do you think is the reason for negative online behaviour?
What can we do as a society to eliminate online trolling? 

Kim Fischer is an ACT Labor candidate for the seat of Ginninderra in the 2016 ACT Legislative Assembly election.

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17 Responses to
Trolling: When our worst impulses come to the fore
John Moulis 11:47 am 10 Jun 16

This isn’t a new phenomenon with the Net and social media. Before the Net there was CB radio and in Canberra in particular, most of the people using it were scum and low lifes. I was “paid out” regularly over the air and had my address and rego number broadcast. One night a gang came around with hammers and baseball bats and destroyed my car. When it was repaired I unbolted the CB radio and threw it in the bin where it belonged.

dungfungus 9:08 am 10 Jun 16

Garfield said :

The article doesn’t say he was charged with racism either. Whether he did it or not, and whatever he may or may not have been charged with, the racism is pretty clear to see in the comment itself.

dungfungus said :

What I think is occuring here is that “flaming” has become the most commonly known form of “trolling” and has taken over the original meaning of trolling to a fair extent.

I tried to find a good definition, and surprisingly Urban Dictionary actually has one of the better ones I could find:

The art of deliberately, cleverly, and secretly pissing people off, usually via the internet, using dialogue. Trolling does not mean just making rude remarks: Shouting swear words at someone doesn’t count as trolling; it’s just flaming, and isn’t funny. Spam isn’t trolling either; it pisses people off, but it’s lame.

The most essential part of trolling is convincing your victim that either a) truly believe in what you are saying, no matter how outrageous, or b) give your victim malicious instructions, under the guise of help.

Trolling requires decieving; any trolling that doesn’t involve decieving someone isn’t trolling at all; it’s just stupid. As such, your victim must not know that you are trolling; if he does, you are an unsuccesful troll. (sic)

What most people would classify as trolling these days is more akin to what used to be known as flaming, being deliberately provocative and attacking the poster directly, usually using discriminatory slurs and other offensive language. Real trolling is an art form, not the gutter street stuff that is commonly referred to as trolling these days.

As an example of the truer form of trolling, I would present this: https://www.facebook.com/liberalsforlightrail/ – that to me is trolling as an art form, something designed to cleverly annoy and irritate ones “enemies” without attacking them directly or resorting to crude language. Whoever created that page is in my book trolling, but in the right way, that is trolling in its purest form imho.

When I was a young lad, “flaming” had a different meaning. It was a risky but spectacular “applied science extension” of how methane burns wherever it is generated.
Re that website (excellent example), can you find out who owns the domain name?

dungfungus 8:49 am 10 Jun 16

rommeldog56 said :

theword said :

Roksteddy said :

Well, Chris Nelson is a fool for posting those alleged comments on FaceBook.
He should have simply followed Clementine Ford’s example of expressing hate buy simply selling tee-shirts with “#*!# Nova Peris” emblazoned on them.
https://twitter.com/clementine_ford/status/445170544749445120
This is totally acceptable apparently.

Some of the most vile things I’ve read online were directed at Tony Abbott and members of his government. But they are white, and male, so there was tacit approval by many members of the media and big-mouthed bloggers like Ms Ford (who often displayed active approval and participation). What a sick set of double standards.

So you mean like when Abbott, B.Bishop and Mirabella posed under the “Ditch the Witch” signs at Parliament House? http://www.abc.net.au/reslib/201103/r738936_6026149.jpg. Doesn’t Sophie look pleased with herself!

I watched the proceedings on the day those banners appeared.
It wasn’t a case of Abbott and co. moving in front of the signs it was a case of the banners moving behind the speakers without their knowledge.
Has anyone identified the people responsible and had them charged with an offence?
No.
Since then, Bishop has been pursued relentlessly for her extravagant helicopter excursions and several “cartoonists” with a left skew have characterised her as a witch.
Apparently there is no problem with that.

Mordd 9:32 pm 09 Jun 16

What I think is occuring here is that “flaming” has become the most commonly known form of “trolling” and has taken over the original meaning of trolling to a fair extent.

I tried to find a good definition, and surprisingly Urban Dictionary actually has one of the better ones I could find:

The art of deliberately, cleverly, and secretly pissing people off, usually via the internet, using dialogue. Trolling does not mean just making rude remarks: Shouting swear words at someone doesn’t count as trolling; it’s just flaming, and isn’t funny. Spam isn’t trolling either; it pisses people off, but it’s lame.

The most essential part of trolling is convincing your victim that either a) truly believe in what you are saying, no matter how outrageous, or b) give your victim malicious instructions, under the guise of help.

Trolling requires decieving; any trolling that doesn’t involve decieving someone isn’t trolling at all; it’s just stupid. As such, your victim must not know that you are trolling; if he does, you are an unsuccesful troll. (sic)

What most people would classify as trolling these days is more akin to what used to be known as flaming, being deliberately provocative and attacking the poster directly, usually using discriminatory slurs and other offensive language. Real trolling is an art form, not the gutter street stuff that is commonly referred to as trolling these days.

As an example of the truer form of trolling, I would present this: https://www.facebook.com/liberalsforlightrail/ – that to me is trolling as an art form, something designed to cleverly annoy and irritate ones “enemies” without attacking them directly or resorting to crude language. Whoever created that page is in my book trolling, but in the right way, that is trolling in its purest form imho.

54-11 8:25 pm 09 Jun 16

theword said :

Roksteddy said :

Well, Chris Nelson is a fool for posting those alleged comments on FaceBook.
He should have simply followed Clementine Ford’s example of expressing hate buy simply selling tee-shirts with “#*!# Nova Peris” emblazoned on them.
https://twitter.com/clementine_ford/status/445170544749445120
This is totally acceptable apparently.

Some of the most vile things I’ve read online were directed at Tony Abbott and members of his government. But they are white, and male, so there was tacit approval by many members of the media and big-mouthed bloggers like Ms Ford (who often displayed active approval and participation). What a sick set of double standards.

So you mean like when Abbott, B.Bishop and Mirabella posed under the “Ditch the Witch” signs at Parliament House? http://www.abc.net.au/reslib/201103/r738936_6026149.jpg. Doesn’t Sophie look pleased with herself!

chewy14 6:45 pm 09 Jun 16

Blen_Carmichael said :

theword said :

Roksteddy said :

Well, Chris Nelson is a fool for posting those alleged comments on FaceBook.
He should have simply followed Clementine Ford’s example of expressing hate buy simply selling tee-shirts with “#*!# Nova Peris” emblazoned on them.
https://twitter.com/clementine_ford/status/445170544749445120
This is totally acceptable apparently.

Some of the most vile things I’ve read online were directed at Tony Abbott and members of his government. But they are white, and male, so there was tacit approval by many members of the media and big-mouthed bloggers like Ms Ford (who often displayed active approval and participation). What a sick set of double standards.

Do you understand that racism (like all use of language) needs to be judged on the context? If someone were to write about a white male politician, “go home you white XXXX and eat a pork pie”, it would be judged to be less offensive, and correctly so.

Less offensive to who? And judged by whom?

Mysteryman 5:27 pm 09 Jun 16

Blen_Carmichael said :

theword said :

Roksteddy said :

Well, Chris Nelson is a fool for posting those alleged comments on FaceBook.
He should have simply followed Clementine Ford’s example of expressing hate buy simply selling tee-shirts with “#*!# Nova Peris” emblazoned on them.
https://twitter.com/clementine_ford/status/445170544749445120
This is totally acceptable apparently.

Some of the most vile things I’ve read online were directed at Tony Abbott and members of his government. But they are white, and male, so there was tacit approval by many members of the media and big-mouthed bloggers like Ms Ford (who often displayed active approval and participation). What a sick set of double standards.

Do you understand that racism (like all use of language) needs to be judged on the context? If someone were to write about a white male politician, “go home you white XXXX and eat a pork pie”, it would be judged to be less offensive, and correctly so.

Do you understand that hateful speech is something that minorities and non-white people are capable of? Because if you’re read what I *actually wrote* I wasn’t talking about racism. I was talking about hateful speech, just like dungfungus was.

But since you made this about racism, you’re wrong. YOU might judge it less offensive, but unless it’s directed at you, you don’t have the right to decide how someone else should feel about it. It is not the domain of the Left to rule over and decide who and what constitutes racism.

Here_and_Now 3:36 pm 09 Jun 16

The article doesn’t say he was charged with racism either. Whether he did it or not, and whatever he may or may not have been charged with, the racism is pretty clear to see in the comment itself.

chewy14 2:54 pm 09 Jun 16

“What can we do as a society to eliminate online trolling?”

What can we do as a society to eliminate the misuse of the word “trolling”?

Nilrem 2:25 pm 09 Jun 16

theword said :

Roksteddy said :

Well, Chris Nelson is a fool for posting those alleged comments on FaceBook.
He should have simply followed Clementine Ford’s example of expressing hate buy simply selling tee-shirts with “#*!# Nova Peris” emblazoned on them.
https://twitter.com/clementine_ford/status/445170544749445120
This is totally acceptable apparently.

Some of the most vile things I’ve read online were directed at Tony Abbott and members of his government. But they are white, and male, so there was tacit approval by many members of the media and big-mouthed bloggers like Ms Ford (who often displayed active approval and participation). What a sick set of double standards.

Do you understand that racism (like all use of language) needs to be judged on the context? If someone were to write about a white male politician, “go home you white XXXX and eat a pork pie”, it would be judged to be less offensive, and correctly so.

dungfungus 1:39 pm 09 Jun 16

Roksteddy said :

Well, Chris Nelson is a fool for posting those alleged comments on FaceBook.
He should have simply followed Clementine Ford’s example of expressing hate buy simply selling tee-shirts with “#*!# Nova Peris” emblazoned on them.
https://twitter.com/clementine_ford/status/445170544749445120
This is totally acceptable apparently.

I am not defending the comments allegedly attributed to Chris Nelson but the nature of the charge against him does not mention “racism” at all and I think you should have pointed this out.
For the record, the link says “He was taken to Gosford Police Station and charged with using a carriage service to cause offence.”

Mysteryman 11:52 am 09 Jun 16

Roksteddy said :

Well, Chris Nelson is a fool for posting those alleged comments on FaceBook.
He should have simply followed Clementine Ford’s example of expressing hate buy simply selling tee-shirts with “#*!# Nova Peris” emblazoned on them.
https://twitter.com/clementine_ford/status/445170544749445120
This is totally acceptable apparently.

Some of the most vile things I’ve read online were directed at Tony Abbott and members of his government. But they are white, and male, so there was tacit approval by many members of the media and big-mouthed bloggers like Ms Ford (who often displayed active approval and participation). What a sick set of double standards.

devils_advocate 11:48 am 09 Jun 16

The irony of this is not lost of me as I write it, but – platforms like facebook, instagram, the internets in general give a free platform to a lot of people who otherwise would not have otherwise had it. That creates 2 effects. Firstly, people whose divisive, or plain idiotic utterances would otherwise go largely unnoticed in society are exposed to a far larger audience, and therefore receive a much higher degree, and much stronger level, of both positive and negative feedback. Secondly, the false consensus bias often prompts people to think that others agree with them more than is the case (and this may be reinforced by commonly held views among their own circle of acquaintances). It’s entirely possible that the racist post above was made by someone whose immediate circle of friends would have considered it a reasonably held position (process of selection) or even reinforced those views among themselves; and they were genuinely surprised when, exposed to a wider audience, the post was not met with the approval to which they had previously been accustomed.

dungfungus 11:19 am 09 Jun 16

Well, Chris Nelson is a fool for posting those alleged comments on FaceBook.
He should have simply followed Clementine Ford’s example of expressing hate buy simply selling tee-shirts with “#*!# Nova Peris” emblazoned on them.
https://twitter.com/clementine_ford/status/445170544749445120
This is totally acceptable apparently.

Alexandra Craig 9:56 am 09 Jun 16

People get tough behind a keyboard because they can’t be punched in the face like they would if they made those comments online.

When people spew racist and/or sexist bile (or just any type of hate speech) online, it should be drawn attention to. People say ‘ignore the troll’ but honestly I think if they think they’re tough enough to say it online then they need to be okay with their partner, children, friends, family, work colleagues, neighbours etc knowing exactly what type of person they are and the views they hold.

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