We humans are such weird creatures, aren’t we?
We say things we don’t mean and laugh at things we don’t find funny to fit in social situations.
We say we’ll make plans with someone we never intend on meeting up with again.
Lots of social customs are part of our culture and the way we get acceptance from others, and that’s okay — it’s to be expected for the most part (and as a people-watcher I find it amusing to witness).
It’s ingrained into our species that we do certain rituals and behaviours to be part of society and community — honestly, there’s legit science behind things like ‘social laughing’ and different body language we all do unconsciously in various social settings.
The thing is:
Because of technology and social media, most of us form friendships online now, over the traditional route of you know, actually going up to someone and talking to them.
But you have to be careful; when folks sit behind their keyboard, they often forget their comments are being read by real people. Some weirdoes think trolling and abuse is okay, even funny. Nice, normal people can even turn into toxic people online just by feeling safe that no-one knows who they are.
The internet is also rife with people who are dishonest. Even with shows like Catfish on MTV exposing those who love to lie to others, people still do it.
And it’s not always obvious.
What might start out as a legit feeling relationship can end badly.
Where do toxic people hang out online?
Online multiplayer games like Rocket League, League of Legends, and Overwatch (and many more) are notorious for slanging matches between players.
I spent some time on Reddit for a personal experiment one day, to see if trolls and generally abusive users could turn ANYTHING into an argument.
And they totally can.
Whilst a lot of people use Reddit to help others, share memes, and partake in discussions about stuff they care about, for the most part, it seems to be a breeding ground for trolls and toxic people to jump on just about anyone for having an opinion they don’t agree with.
Give a troll an audience and it feeds their behaviour.
Toxic people LOVE to get attention (hint: that’s why they act like bellends).
In their eyes, distracting a streamer trying to entertain their viewers, and making people feel uncomfortable, is their ultimate goal.
This is one of those places where people aren’t just abusive, though: here, we often see malicious users luring streamers or other viewers into a false sense of security by pretending to be someone else.
At this point, I feel silly for even listing these.
I mean, you live in the world and so I feel this is almost patronising.
Twitter. Facebook. Instagram. We know these places harbour trolls and toxic people. But, social media also breeds thousands of fake accounts; people using others’ content and photos, conjuring up stories that never happened and ruining lives in the process.
How can someone be toxic online?
I’m not asking how these people sleep at night, but rather, what are the signs of a toxic person?
Here are the obvious traits:
- Directing hate speech towards other people
- Starting arguments
- Derailing posts deliberately
- Sharing malicious content
- Spreading rumours about others
- Posting spammy comments
- Making you feel bad about yourself
But there are heaps of ways a person can be toxic where you might think they’re being perfectly genuine.
You know when you don’t quite feel right about a situation? Use your gut. Here are some pointers:
- Not respecting your boundaries
- Asking personal or invasive questions
- Sharing tragic stories about their own lives to gain attention and sympathy
- Asking for money or free things
- Asking for photos or videos
- Making you feel guilty for liking things
- Getting jealous about who you talk to
- Not leaving you alone; messaging you all hours of the day
- Their accounts keep getting banned
- You feel dread when you see a notification from them
How to avoid toxic people
It’s not difficult to stop someone from affecting your positive experiences online.
Some situations might feel more difficult to deal with, depending on the circumstances.
Use your best judgment here.
Trust me — don’t bother getting into an argument with a troll.
If a toxic person starts sending you abusive messages in your direction, the best thing you can do is block them.
It gets trickier when you have formed a relationship with someone and they start being abusive after some time because you might think they aren’t a troll if they started out treating you nicely.
Like I said, use your best judgment here, but also know that you don’t deserve to have someone make you feel icky.
Ask them to stop
Don’t bother with this approach when it comes to random online trolls, but if an online friend is overstepping the line by asking you weird questions that you don’t feel comfortable with, just ask them to stop.
A real friend will respect this, but a toxic person will place blame on you and probe further.
It’s up to you what you do then.
Investigate, Catfish style
Have a sneaky suspicion the person you’re talking to isn’t who they say they are?
Do a bit of Max and Nev style investigative work.
Search for their images on Google. Search for their phone number. See how many friends they have on social media and whether those accounts are real too.
Not all catfishes are a threat but it definitely helps to be wary if things don’t add up.
Spend time in less toxic environments
Not everywhere is negative in an online world.
If you’re frequenting communities or channels that make you feel bad, maybe have a think about finding somewhere more satisfying to hang out.
Or, you could go cold turkey and use an app like StayFocusd to limit the time you’re spending in places that make you feel bad about yourself.
You are in charge of your own life. Depending on how you feel about confrontation, telling the person in question bluntly how you feel might be easy, or it might feel impossible; do what feels right for you. And of course, if you ever feel in danger or like you’re being harassed, please seek help.