I think that few would disagree that the advent of the internet has brought about fantastic advantages to society, individuals, businesses and more but as is often the case, with great things comes a few unsuspected drawbacks.
There are those who have been disenfranchised by being unable to keep up with technology such as the poor, the elderly or those who have difficulty grasping the skills required to operate in the high-tech world.
Another significant drawback is that the same technology that has improved the ease and speed of operating businesses and individuals’ lives also enhances the ease with which criminal activity can take place. The spectrum of illegal pursuits is seemingly without limits, from hacking bank accounts, to scams designed to rob people of their money that often need a sophisticated understanding of technology down to cyber bullying which requires no special skill or aptitude at all, just the ability to be unpleasant and have a total lack of regard for, or understanding of, socially acceptable behaviour.
As a member of the British Psychological Society it is the latter I want to write about, what has become known as ‘trolling’. The reasons that people engage in trolling range from a need to feel they have some form of power over others, generally to compensate for their own insecurities and lack of self esteem, to trying to damage the reputation of other businesses to gain corporate advantage. Whatever the reason they all have something in common, something now increasingly referred to as trolling personality disorder. It is typified by psychopathy and sadism, they usually lack empathy and derive satisfaction from causing anguish to others, particularly if they believe they will gain some sort of advantage from it, they have no moral compass.
They might have difficulty understanding sarcasm, this is where someone says the opposite of what they mean. For example, if they make a mess of a task and someone in authority says sarcastically ‘you have really sorted that’, they could well believe they have actually done well and received genuine endorsement despite the evidence to the contrary. Such difficulties are often but not exclusively, associated with autism spectrum disorders. They may also exhibit signs of a superiority complex, people with this complex have exaggerated opinions of themselves, they believe their abilities and achievements surpass those of others and they can reinforce this belief by trolling. People suffering from such personality issues frequently don’t actually understand what is wrong with such behaviour as they interpret it as being strong and an acceptable survival strategy. The fact that it is illegal is seen as of little consequence as they believe such laws do not apply to what they are doing. They will often be quick to brag about their achievements too (real or imaginary)
Trolling takes several forms, it can be harsh and often cruel criticism of their target to spreading deliberate untruths and the more salacious the better. It is not always clear who is responsible for sending it but somehow they will want someone to know who was responsible as this is more rewarding for them. Sometimes it is clear who is responsible, in these cases the individual will phrase their odious message in such a way as to make it not worth prosecuting under libel laws, this makes them feel more talented and adds to their misplaced sense of superiority.
The temptation to stand up for yourself and put the truth out there is overwhelming but strangely this is the last thing you should do. Any response is playing into their hands, it shows that you have seen the attack and it has got your attention, this marks their first success. The next success for them is that it has had the desired effect and caused you enough of an emotional response to sit down and compose an answer. They will then relish the ensuing exchanges aiming for the last word and their increasing satisfaction is in stark contrast to your increasing stress. The most effective strategy is to not respond at all, resist the temptation. Apply the advice given to dog owners when dealing with begging and ignore it, if there is no reward they will soon work out that their efforts are not working. If someone is fishing but catching no fish they will move to another spot. Answering them will just encourage the behaviour and drags you down to the same low level, not answering causes them frustration.
Do not feed the trolls.