How to deal with trolls

How do we build a life?is a weekly column by Arthur Brooks, addressing questions of meaning and happiness. Click here to listen to his podcast series on all things happiness, How do we build a happy life?.

MMy friend Peter Attia, a wellness and longevity expert who helps people live better lives, dreams of an invention to improve his own abilities: a machine that shocks him with 100 volts of electricity every time he starts communicating with his critics online. “Every time I get unfairly attacked and respond to an online troll, it always gets worse because the default crowd that appears is made up of more trolls,” he told me. “But it seems like I never learn.”

Attia is not alone in the dwarf problem. If you use the internet, odds are that you will be mistreated there. A 2021 Pew Research report found that 41 percent of adults in the United States have personally experienced some form of online harassment. Fifty-five percent think it’s a “big problem”. 75 percent of people targeted for online abuse say their most recent experience was on social media. I can think of no other area of ​​voluntary interaction – with the possible exception of driving in rush hour traffic – where people frequently expose themselves to regular abuse.

But we are not powerless in the face of online abusers or those who turn us on the highway. In fact, they are often one and the same thing: bullies with personality disorders. And you can protect your happiness by dealing with them in some tangible and practical way.

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Wwithout even Realizing this, many internet users mistakenly assume that cyber attackers follow traditional code of conduct. People try to reason with trolls or turn to their better nature. These responses are similar to how you might deal with a friend who inadvertently insulted you, or a family member who disagrees with you about something important. But trolls are not like your loved ones, and research shows that these strategies are ineffective because they misunderstand the true motives of stories, which are usually to get attention, exercise control, and manipulate others.

Many people who engage in online harassment are not what most of us would consider well-controlled. In 2019, scientists write in the magazine Personality and individual differences Survey of 26 studies on Internet ‘trolling’, cyberbullying, and antisocial online behaviours. They found significant associations with psychopathy, Machiavellianism, sadism, and narcissism, in that order. In other words, just as you would infer that a stranger attacking you personally was badly damaged, you can infer the same thing about a stranger attacking you on social media.

But despite the fact that online fools and offline scammers tend to be the same people, online life seems to be more full of jerks than offline life. Odd and hostile behavior appears to be more common online than in person. According to a recent study in American political science reviewAmericans rate online political discussions as 50 percent more negative than offline discussions. The reason is that once aggressors enter an online space, they tend to take over. Trolls love trolling, while most people do not like trolling. So trolls are attracted to internet forums like Twitter, where they can get their venomous bodies without much threat of getting hit, while people with morals come out – all of which increases the percentage of trolls back to normal over time. If you feel as though your relationship with social media has worsened over time, this may explain why.

Our attackers are strangers, and the Internet is an eccentric paradise. But for some reason, we often have a hard time understanding it. Instead, we take attacks very seriously and personally. One scientist suggested that this tendency to internalize loud insults results from a phenomenon called introverted presentation: reading written communication can feel like hearing a voice inside our head. As such, troll insults can be experienced as a form of self-criticism, which is hard to ignore.

eWhere if you want Bidding to a sewer online is a no-nonsense goodbye, your circumstances may make doing so very expensive. Getting off social media today would be like getting rid of your phone 20 years ago. And you might not want trolls simply to be forced off social media, any more than you might quietly accept being forced off the court because of the bullying they treat as their exclusive property.

If you need or want to participate in online communities, but hate abuse, here are three strategies to consider.

1. Not receiving

As a child, you were probably advised more than many times to ignore taunts and insults. Part of this is just common sense. Back in 1997, essentially in the Stone Age of the Internet, a Unix handbook for systems administrators gave instructions on how to deal with a troll: “You’re an adult – you can probably figure out some way to deal with it, like just ignoring the person.”

This is a version of a Buddhist strategy for dealing with insults. In the Akkosa Sutta, the Buddha teaches, “He who brings back insult to him who offends … is said to eat together, and to share in the companionship of that person.” You don’t have to actively reject online abuse; You simply cannot have it. When you are being laughed at, say to yourself, I chose not to accept these words.

I won’t pretend this is easy; You can decide for yourself if this tactic is workable for you. And in the case of threats or hate speech, you may want to make your opt-out more realistic by blocking trolls and reporting abuse. (This remedy is imperfect at best, unfortunately, given the social media companies’ spotty record of enforcing their own standards.)

2. Not responding

Not receiving an insult means that you cannot respond in any way (maybe bypassing blocking and reporting the attacker). According to the Center for Combating Digital Hate, a British NGO, ignoring trolls is critical to stopping abuse. This makes sense, given the evidence that trolls seek attention, including negative attention. Failure to respond deprives them of the reward they seek.

Responding to a bully online or in real life – remember they are usually the same people – is proof that they are worthy of your time and attention. It gives them a quirky kind of prestige. While a healthy person obtains status from admiration for meritorious behavior, research on playground bullies has found that they seek status by demonstrating dominance through aggression. Do not feed this beast, in person or online. When possible, face aggression with deafening silence.

3. Anonymity

The Internet offers (at least) one important tool that makes bullies’ lives easier: anonymity. As both research and common sense attest, allowing users to hide their identity incites abuse. A colleague of mine, a fellow professor with many opinions outside the academy’s political orthodoxy, has a particularly strong approach to dealing with trolls: once a year, he takes a few hours to review his followers and block anyone who doesn’t use them for real. name.

It’s not a perfect technology, given how easy it is for social media users to fake their identity and create new handles. But my friend swears that it has greatly improved the discourse he enjoys online, because the majority of his interlocutors—both positive and negative—react themselves. If you choose this path, be morally consistent and avoid being anonymous yourself. This practice may take it a step further and withdraw from anonymous chat platforms by design.

What if you Not just a victim, but a bully or a troll? You probably (hopefully) don’t beat up kids for their milk money, but if you find you’ve fallen for aggressive internet behaviours, this dark cyber side of your personality is worth addressing.

You can search for some clues to see if you are a troll or not. Research on online bullies has found that it is easier for them to be online than in person. Ask yourself: Do you feel the same way? Also consider whether you find pleasure in insulting others without consequences and seeing them get hurt or angry; whether you enjoy the security of anonymity when expressing your opinions; And whether “attacking” and “eliminating” others gives you a sense of satisfaction or purpose.

If this introspection has prompted you to admit to yourself that you have become somewhat of a troll, or have voluntarily become part of a culture or group that engages in cyberbullying, remember how it feels to be on the other side of the exchange. Ask yourself if you want your loved ones to know what you’ve been doing online.

Then he took action: reject anonymity altogether. Publicly declare that you will never be trolling or bullying, and ask others to hold you accountable. And if trolling is too tempting, make a plan to log out completely and pull the plug on yourself online.