Four Life Lessons from Internet Trolls

Wisdom from the wild side

As the admin of a female-dominated forum from 2003–2012, I danced with the trolls for nine solid years — sometimes slightly traumatized by my inbox, sometimes openly baffled. In that time, I came to see trolls engage in a broad swath of obnoxious human behaviors, but generally they’re:

Any online identity consistently interacting in a manner that purposefully incites and creates conflict

Closeted assholes are still just assholes

We’ve all been anonymous, and still — most of us have no problem using the manners our mama taught us. The specific desire to systematically oppose, upend, incite, fight, abuse, deceive, and spew vitriol for nothing more than the sheer catharsis of releasing rage onto another with virtually no consequence is more than a simple by-product of anonymity.

Eye contact enhances civility

Research bears me out on this one. Face-to-face interactions contain learned feedback cues that change our behavior — keep all of us in line with socially accepted standards of behavior.

Trolls are the guys staring at you in the check-out line, who drop their eyes if you make eye contact — holding in all their troll thoughts because the social consequences of voicing them are all too palpable in that moment.

Eye contact basically forces the viewer to briefly enter the mind of the other. It’s much harder to attack or belittle someone I’m inadvertently empathizing with — even if only for the briefest of moments.

Real life frustration = Troll-sauce

The statistics on trolls point squarely to white males in a suburban or rural malaise in the the US and UK, who’re apparently losers — often with troubled backgrounds (whatever that actually means).

Evolutionary psychologists attribute troll behavior to basic sore-loser syndrome, wherein the loser male re-exerts his dominance by attacking someone of lesser or equal status (oftentimes a woman, preferably a feminist) to move back up the hierarchy 0f social dominance

This explanation is somewhat dissatisfying, although it does have a shred of basic logic. Still, not every troll is a failing gamer. What we’re really looking at is old-fashioned frustration — only the most typical reason for lashing out.

It’s not about being a sore-loser specifically— so much as it is the frustration of not achieving or being whatever is desired or intended.

Trolls trickle up

Online social spaces unintentionally empower humanity’s ugliness to float to the top and manifest in verbally and visually abusive ways that leave all of us feeling dirtier after an encounter. And now, troll access is as instant and constant as the phone we carry.

Stalking is sort of the basic tenant of social media, when you think about it. We just call it “following” and pretend this is normal behavior rather than a technology-enabled call to creeping.

Pairing closet creeper technology with the frustrated white male’s disproportionate amounts of self-entitled rage is like strapping dynamite to your body with an extra long length of kerosine-soaked rope dragging behind you — all the while hoping there’s never a spark of conflict. Pray all you like, things are almost certainly going to get explosively ugly.

And so…

This is why we’re choosing to explicitly exclude males from the Sisterhood app. We simply can’t afford the troll-tacular explosions males can bring to online spaces. Especially because we’ve specifically built Sisterhood to help us get closer by being more real and vulnerable than other social media currently allows.

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