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Understanding the psychology of social media trolling

 Understanding the psychology of social media trolls (Photo: iStock)

In the vast, labyrinthine world of social media, there is a peculiar breed of individual - the troll. Armed with snarky comments, memes and a truckload of GIFs, these keyboard warriors are like the court jesters of the digital age.

They pop up in comment sections and threads like unexpected punch lines in a stand-up comedy show. But what drives them to be the way they are, and what happens to their victims when they launch their digital attacks?

Let's delve into the fascinating world of social media trolling, a phenomenon that is equal parts hilarious and baffling.

The psychology of trolling:

Now, trolling is a fine art, and like any art, it’s got its psychology. At its core, trolling is often driven by anonymity and a perverse sense of amusement. Imagine a guy in a badger costume standing in the middle of a crowded square, taunting passers-by while safe behind a furry mask. Anonymity provides the same shield in the digital realm, allowing trolls to revel in their absurdity without facing the real-world consequences.

But why do trolls do what they do? One theory is the "lols" factor. Lols is internet slang for laughs, and many trolls troll just to entertain themselves, for the sheer joy of making someone irate, and well, for the "lols." It's like modern-day slapstick comedy. The more exaggerated the reaction, the funnier it is for the troll. Classic B.F Skinner’s Positive Reinforcement.

Another motivation for trolling is a need for attention. Trolls often feel invisible in the real world, but on the internet, they can make a splash. Negative attention, it seems, is better than no attention at all. In a peculiar way, trolling is their cry for help, wrapped in sarcasm and adorned with emojis.

 Social media trolls have become a multifaceted art form, spanning various platforms and mediums (Photo: iStock)

The impact on victims:

Now, while trolls are busy perfecting their art, there's someone on the receiving end of their jests. These unfortunate souls bear the brunt of the trolls’ amusement and the impacts can be quite real. Just think of the victim as the unwitting star of a comedy roast, except there’s no invitation and it's not all in good humour.

First, there’s the emotional toll. Trolling can be hurtful and demoralizing. Imagine you’re at a party and someone suddenly insults your appearance. It's uncomfortable, right? Online trolling works in the same way, with insults, ridicule and sarcasm causing pain and humiliation. Victims often feel anger, sadness, and even self-doubt as they try to understand why they’ve become the target of someone’s digital jest.

Then there’s the fear factor. Online harassment can escalate, sometimes reaching disturbing levels. Victims might start receiving threats or have their personal information exposed, making them fear for their safety. In the end, what began as a seemingly innocuous comment can transform into a nightmare, and it’s no laughing matter!

However, there’s another side to the story. Some victims choose to fight back with humour, turning the trolls into a source of amusement themselves. They respond to negativity with positivity, sarcasm with wit, and suddenly the trolls find themselves tangled in a battle of wits. And who doesn't love a good underdog story, right?

The evolution of trolling:

Trolling, like any form of comedy, has evolved over time. It's not just limited to comments on social media posts anymore. It has become a multifaceted art form, spanning various platforms and mediums.

Memes are the trolls' modern-day masterpiece. They craft hilarious images and captions, using irony and absurdity to make a point or just to provoke a chuckle. In a world oversaturated with memes, trolls are the connoisseurs, the curators of the bizarre and the outrageous.

Live streaming and gaming communities have also given rise to a unique form of trolling. Gamers love to poke fun at each other and the audience. This can create camaraderie or hostility, depending on the intention behind the jests. It’s a fine line between friendly banter and genuine trolling in these realms.

So, the next time you come across a troll, remember, that they might just be the digital version of the clown at the circus, seeking a laugh or two. Or perhaps, they're the tricksters of the online world, offering a stark contrast to the kindness and civility we should all strive to bring to the digital realm. In the end, it’s all part of the intricate tapestry of the internet, where humour, empathy, and a pinch of absurdity coexist, creating a world that's as bewildering as it is entertaining.

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