Saturday, February 2, 2013

Do We? We Do.

I wrote yesterday about some of the psychological roots of habitual online maliciousness. In retrospect, I shouldn't have used the word "troll' because it focused discussion on the definition of the word, rather than the underlying processes I was trying to highlight. It also implied that there are some people known as "trolls" who are fundamentally different than everyone else.

Very few people escaped childhood unscathed. We're all susceptible at times to confusion between the reality of the current moment and the ghosts of trauma past. As a matter of fact, most of our strong emotional reaction to being criticized and even personally attacked online is due to our own unresolved issues. That doesn't excuse malicious behavior. My point is that by acknowledging the role of the past within our own experience, we can make ourselves less vulnerable. We can rise above our own negative emotions to more constructively respond to malignant activity, whether it's directed at ourselves our or at others.

The video above is another one of my interpretations of a Beck tune from his Song Reader project. It acknowledges the Dr. Hyde in us all.


Tish said...

I think you're diving in too deep here and yesterday. If the answer to "why" is hidden deep in the past of a troll, then it is simply not going to be very useful for his victims, unless they are the "understanding" type who will henceforth simply undergo everything thrown at them for fear of upsetting the delicate ego of the troll.
I think you need to short-circuit the whole discussion: what the troll wants most of the time, is attention. Whether it's latent attention for his childhood or his rotten wife doesn't really matter, does it? He wants attention: deal with that (by not giving him any, for example).
What does matter is one's own psyche, in that we agree. On top of that the victim needs to understand what's happening. The chief editor of a very popular "shock blog" in my country once attacked me via twitter. It resulted in three(!) other tweeps shouting at me. In other words: nothing happened. Now apply this to a tiny community like Second Life instead of a country of 17 million and you'll conclude that any trolling there is utterly ineffective, and that practivally nobody has seen it happening. And so... why care?

Botgirl Questi said...

Laetizia: Why care? I find it interesting, so that's enough reason to think about it. But it's also useful. By understanding that there's a difference between my emotional reaction to something and the reality of a situation, I have an opportunity to make better choices when confronted with something that sets me off. (Unfortunately, It's an opportunity I don't always take.)

Like I said, I regret my choice of the term "troll." The vast majority of mean-spirited online communication isn't from notorious super-villains who pride themselves on being known for their shocking behavior. It's mostly from people who are relatively civil in most circumstances, but are set off by certain situations and lash out. This behavior is often between people who are friends or casual acquaintances who fall into unhealthy abuser/victim patterns of interaction.

Some people are lucky enough, or have done enough work on themselves, to shrug off that sort of encounter. Other people have psychologically vulnerabilities that cause them significant distress.

I agree with you that in the case of the overt attention-seeking theatrical "trolls," it's usually best to just ignore them. But that's not an antidote to the pervasive "casual" vitriol we see in online communication. I'm not saying that just understanding the psychological dimensions is enough to change things for the better, but I think it's a useful dimension to explore.

Burhop said...

Like you, I find it interesting how some people seem to be more mean spirited online and am curious as to why that is.

I'm not quite sure I'd fall as hard on the nurture side as the cause. While you might be right, I might also attribute it to them being predisposed to acting like this (genetics?) or are ignorant of the actual dynamic that is taking place. That is, they don't think they are being mean or at least not THAT mean.

I second the sentiment that we all have to understand that this WILL happen with public content and develop the right coping strategy to deal with it (which is maybe different for everyone).

If you can get to where Laetizia is not care at all, that would really be nice :-)

Tish said...

Ha - I wish I could not care at all Burhop. It's easy to write that but it's hard to put it into practice.

I guess the main problem of online communication remains that it's only half the story, or less. You don't hear my voice saying these words, and you don't see my face speaking them.

An example: I could tell Botgirl "I want you to stop." Did I say I want you to stop, or I want you to stop, or I want you to stop, or I want you to stop? (Four very different emphases!) And did I smile, or look pleading, or angry? And how's my English, anyway? Do I sound like someone looking for words and can I be forgiven for being blunt, or do I speak like I was born and raised in London?

What it boils down to, perhaps, is that we hardly ever know the reality of a situation, and that we react on the basis of assumptions - much more so in online environments with their incomplete communication than in real life.

Botgirl Questi said...


I agree that biology plays a part. Human psychology is a mix of nature and nurture. Some people have organic conditions that cause or contribute to problems with perception, empathy, cognition, aggression, etc.

In some way, it's like a Services Oriented Architecture in that people are essentially black boxes to each other. We can see what goes and and what goes out, but can only guess the hardware, operating system and software that exist within.

Botgirl Questi said...

Laetizia: I'm totally with you. There have been a couple of people in my online life who went ballistic over something they totally misconstrued about something I'd written. In both cases people read something I'd tweeted and mistakingly thought it was directed at them. No amount of denial or evidence to the contrary could sway the to the contrary.

I try very consciously to hold judgement on what may initially seems to be a personal attack. A couple of questions can usually shed light on the true nature of the communication. Most of the time, it turns out that, like you described, I was hearing a different inflection than they intended.