Coping with Internet Trolls

In Norse mythology and Scandinavian folklore, a troll is an ugly being that hides under bridges or in rocks. They have claws and harm humans whenever they get the chance. An internet troll is a person who posts hateful mean comments online. They hide under pseudonyms to avoid real-life repercussions.  

According to a 2014 study by psychologists Erin Buckels, Paul Trapnell and Delroy Paulhus, trolls have what is referred to as the dark triad of personality traits. In their article Trolls Just Want to Have Fun they state, “trolling correlated positively with sadism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism, using both enjoyment ratings and identity scores.” Sadism means enjoying causing harm to others. Psychopathy is an antisocial personality disorder that includes little to no feelings of remorse, guilt or empathy. Machiavellianism means a person is, in general, deceitful and manipulative.

Our image of people who have the dark triad traits is typically based off of characters from movies or crime shows. They are portrayed as serial killers or mob bosses. In reality, most are sad, disconnected, bitter people who feel a need for, yet lack, social influence. No surprise there considering they are never well-liked people or strong contributors to society. 

As a child, some adult probably told you that bullies are cowards. Childhood bullies typically pick on weaker or somehow defenseless peers. They may also select victims they feel jealous of or perceive as different from them. Most bullies outgrow these behaviors as they develop character and compassion. However, some clearly do not and the internet provides the perfect outlet for them. 

Trolls take pleasure from causing pain. Their ability to upset or harm gives them a feeling of power. They lack the positive personality traits needed to feel compassion or guilt; so it’s actually worth it to them to spend their time and energy posting nasty messages.  

Many countries are working to make it illegal to post under a fake name. The belief is that if they had to uses their real names (being cowards) most would not be willing to attack. In the USA you can sue a troll under the name “Defendant Doe” and the courts can use their powers to unmask them. 

However, it’s important to remember that trolls are not super villains, but rather broken individuals. Don’t feel angry with them, but rather sad for them. If they did not envy you or feel that you are impactful then they would not be reacting to you. You cannot have an internet presence without dealing with trolls at some point. Remind yourself that the more trolls you have, the more important and influential you actually are. They are just some ugly soul living under a dank bridge, while you and your internet presence are living in the light of day.

The comedian Sarah Silverman famously responded to a troll with love and compassion. It caused him to apologize. (I myself did invite one to lunch who claimed to live near me but have not gotten a reply). In general, I ignore them or my assistant does so on my behalf. 

If you are a troll I hope you get the help you need. Sharing your pain won’t heal it.

If you are being trolled by someone else, say a little prayer for them and focus on the people who support you. If a troll hurts you remember it could be worse, you could be them.

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