IN THIS ISSUE

From the associate editor: The psychology of Internet trolls

Trolls aren’t people who simply have an unpopular opinion; they are Internet users who post comments with the intent of offending and irritating their readers.

By Kathryn Stamoulis

October has been a significant month for unmasking Internet trolls and providing psychology with a major opportunity to understand their behavior. Trolls aren’t people who simply have an unpopular opinion; they are Internet users who post comments with the intent of offending and irritating their readers. Trolls are found in the comment sections of many news stories, blog posts, and on some professional listservs.

On Gawker.com, writer Adrian Chen unmasked “the biggest troll on the web,” a reddit.com user (a forum with 40 million hits a month). The man behind username “Violentacrez” posted thousands of photos of unconsenting teen girls called “Jailbait” often in their skirts or bathing suits, but he refused to post provocative photos of girls who looked older than 15. He also posted many racist, misogynistic, and vile posts including a thread of photos of “dead children.” He claims to be neither a racist nor a pedophile, just a man who likes to outrage people. He also says he values his freedom of speech, but begged the reporter not “to out him.” The “troll” was revealed to be a 49 year-old father with a disabled wife who comes home from his desk job every evening and lies in bed with his computer.

When a friendly, complimentary stranger asked a 15 year-old Canadian girl named Amanda Todd to flash her breasts, she complied. After that, he blackmailed her for more illicit images. When she refused, he started a campaign to torment her, creating a Facebook page in her name with the photo of her breasts as the profile picture. All her friends and family were also sent the picture and harassed. This man was beyond a troll; he became a stalker, relentlessly harassing the teenage girl. After a year of abuse, she committed suicide. After her death, “Anonymous” conducted an investigation which revealed her harasser as a 30-year-old man. Personal details of this man are still limited, but this case has received so much attention, the public will likely soon gain more information.

Trolls seem to have many traits of people with Oppositional Defiant Disorder: feelings of anger and spite, a disdain for authority, and a desire to deliberately provoke others. Perhaps these two trolls felt powerless at home, and offending (harassing) others provided them with a sense of power.

Unmasking trolls appears to be a current trend; hopefully, the threat of being revealed will curb the behavior of would-be trolls. Regardless, a personal understanding of why people engage in this behavior will help us address the Internet’s darker side.