I’d like to discuss a troubling trend occurring on major news websites that accept public comments on their articles: the internet “Troll” or “Trolling” phenomenon. In brief, Trolls are people who write comments on news articles that are utterly outrageous, hateful, bigoted, or ignorant. I find it upsetting to read a human interest story only to see a long list of nasty comments that serve no purpose other than to upset other readers. I suppose this could be attributed to the darker side of human nature, but in reality I think it is just an adult form of cyber bullying. If these types of comments were made in public, the speaker would be lucky to walk away WITHOUT a black eye, a kick in the nuts, or the fury of an angry mob. Instead, these creeps hide behind their keyboards using clever monikers and anonymous email addresses to further their campaign of deceit and hate.
Any regular reader of this blog is probably thinking, “Wow – someone with BPD calling out Trolls? What about all the hateful things YOU have said?”. Fair point. I’ve said some nasty things in my life, many powered by Borderline Personality Disorder. They came from a dark, painful place inside of me in response to upsetting life experiences. Specifically, I’ve said nasty and cruel things to my family and psychiatrist, motivated by desperate feelings and an inability to control my anger. In some cases, my words were inspired by mistreatment and abusive experiences. I’m very sorry I said these things and have since vowed to better myself. You can’t un-ring a bell, but you can fix it so it works properly the next time. That’s a metaphor for psychotherapy, I suppose.
There is, however, a big difference between someone with documented mental illness lashing out privately at people around them (who may be equally guilty of various transgressions) and people who say hateful things publicly for self serving purposes.
This, in essence, is what Trolls do: they insult others for their own amusement. Instead of moving the human race forward, they drag it backwards with their vitriol, creating an illusion of a hate filled, bigoted world that isn’t necessarily reflected by reality. Still, their words serve as propaganda for impressionable people looking for something to believe in. If a Troll succeeds in changing someone’s mind for the worse, that’s one less decent person in a world that desperately needs humanity to convert for the better.
Aren’t Trolls just like insult comedians? On some levels yes, on others, no. There are lines even the most raucous of insult comedians won’t cross. Trolls will cross any line. Audiences pay to see insult comedians and/or to be insulted themselves. Trolls insult people who DID NOT want to face a barrage of cruel words and hurtful inferences. Think about it: would you stand in the middle of Times Square, New York, screaming racial insults at the top of your lungs? NO, and neither would an insult comedian. Article comment sections, however, are a vastly different place. It seems human sleaze and slimy remarks are the name of the game. There are no social implications for being an online a$$hole because nobody is around to call you out. It’s just you and your laptop smirking in some cesspool.
For the uninitiated, the following are some real life examples of Troll commentary that I picked out just today. In any given week there are thousands of horrible remarks posted online. Warning: you might be outraged by what you read. Others might see the humor of a Troll’s words but will question the appropriateness of such commentary given the context of a particular news article. I’ll include all the relevant information so that you can get a better idea of what I mean. I’ll also offer a balanced smattering of Troll remarks running the gamut of various topics.
Site: Yahoo.com News
Article: Obama: Let Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest expire
Troll Comment: “Funny, Michelle put down her two kids as “senior staffers” on her expense report for her trip to Africa. How much more cheating goes on in the White House that is not disclosed.”
Contextual Analysis: This was one of the tamer anti-Obama comments I found. Like most other Trolls, this commentator doesn’t attack Obama’s policies but instead his family. As you can read in the comment, the Troll takes a cheap shot at Obama’s wife and children, with a thinly veiled racist reference to “her trip to Africa”. Does this comment really serve to further the political discourse of the nation, or is it ignorant bigotry at its best?
Site: OMG Yahoo News
Article: Usher’s stepson declared brain dead after being hit by Jet Ski
Troll Comment: “oh well, a million more where he came from…”
Contextual Analysis: One of the most respected artists in music just lost a stepson in a tragic accident. The Troll decides to make a racist and bigoted comment that suggests a black child’s life is somehow expendable due to over population. Really? Would this Troll be caught dead saying such a thing at this child’s eventual wake and funeral? One would think that a tragic event would bring out the best in others and at minimum condolences and thoughts for the family. Instead, this Troll sees a a child’s death as an opportunity to spread hate.
Site: Yahoo Sports News
Article: Andy Murray breaks down in runner-up speech (VIDEO)
Troll Comment: “In Serbia we would put a dress and lipstick on him. I do hope Murray wins a Major one day, just not against Nole. Ajde Nole – defend your U.S. Open Championship and win the gold medal!”
Contextual Analysis: The point of the article was to describe British tennis player Andy Murray’s emotional and thoughtful remarks after losing in the Wimbledon Final to Switzerland’s Roger Federer. This was a dramatic match for the United Kingdom because no British tennis player has won Wimbledon in 76 years. Most of the article’s commentators remarked about Murray’s class and graciousness in defeat. Others recalled that they, too, welled up with tears after watching Murray’s speech on TV. Instead, this Troll decides to make a nasty remark suggesting that Mr. Murray should be treated with disdain and prejudice as a cross dressing homosexual from Serbia. It doesn’t even make any sense except for those with a twisted sense of humor and lack of regard for human decency. Society is quick to judge when two sportsman act out of line. In this instance, we had a tennis player who was articulate, thoughtful, and humble: the perfect opportunity for an internet Troll to spread misery.
Site: Yahoo News/AFP Article
Article: WHO finds virus link to Cambodia mystery disease
Troll Comment: “It is very clear that many of these children, adults, and many pets have suffered in the cambodia, and as a result of the suffering, this has brought on more suffering to other people as well, especially since very many young people have died to this constantly fluctuating and rampantly destructive disease that has some mimicking traits of foot and mouth disease. Clearly then, the result of their sins has angered Our Heavenly Father God and His Son Our Lord Jesus Christ into torturing and killing these people with this illness, and as a result of these sins, they will all burn in the ETERNAL LAKE OF FIRE. In addition to this, as a true Christian I can tell you that God and Jesus are certainly angry at their disgusting, chaotic, mutilating, destructive, and anti-Christ-like sins of ‘slave appraisal’ and ‘forest child-chopping’, and as a result of these sins, both God and Jesus will smite and kill these heathens as they told unto us through their Word in the Bible, and the ultimate consequence, then, is that Jesus and God will kill them all for their sinful acts here on this earth, and consequently, these heathens will all burn in the ETERNAL LAKE OF FIRE.
Contextual Analysis: Out of all the Troll comments I’ve read, this is one of the most infuriating. A deadly disease is ravaging the country of Cambodia and has already killed scores of children. At present time, there is no cure. In his or her comment, the Troll insults these suffering people, attempting to use a warped view of the Christian faith to explain why their children are dying. He or she believes “Father God” is punishing Cambodia on purpose for their sins and poverty stricken lifestyle. Worst of all, the Troll believes they will all burn in hell. Really? Is this the loving image of Christianity that most people believe in? Does this Troll really believe that a loving God would punish people created in his likeness so horribly and then send them all to hell? No. This mini-rant from an individual that clearly needs to be on more meds than I am is nothing more than prejudice, bigotry, hatred, and ignorance rolled up into one absolutely ludicrous comment. If the Troll was trying to be funny, he or she was way off base. There’s NOTHING funny about dying children. Moreover, there’s nothing funny about suggesting they’re all going to hell. I pray this person is off their meds, or else society is in much worse shape than I thought.
- Who are you to tell me what to write? I’m entitled to my opinion! – Yes, you are, no matter how outrageous it is, you ARE entitled to an opinion. The problem is voicing it in such a hateful, poorly timed manner. There is a time and place for everything. If you feel the need to make a crude remark about another person’s race or the death of their child, I suggest you save it for people who are like minded, ie. your KKK meeting. Hate has no place in public, and posting awful “opinions” about any topic is obscene and indecent.
- You are one of these “PC” [Politically Correct] Types: I’m tired of Political Correctness – I will agree with you that there are problems with Political Correctness. To be clear, I’m not advocating Political Correctness, I’m advocating basic human decency and respect for those around you. You don’t have to be Politically Correct to know when to keep your mouth shut and your negativity to yourself: just ask yourself if you would like to be on the receiving end of some Troll’s remark, and if the answer is “NO”, then don’t bother posting something terrible about someone else.
- I wrote my comment to be funny, your sense of humor is too uptight – Everyone has their own sense of humor. Everyone is entitled to laugh at what they find funny. The problem is when you’re laughing at the EXTREME expense of someone else. Yes, most of what passes as PG humor is making fun of others. R rated humor goes a little further and might play on stereotypes or use gross language. That said, the “normal” spectrum of humor doesn’t include hatred and evil dispositions about other human beings. If you think it is OK to joke about someone’s child dying, that’s your prerogative; however keep it to yourself and respect the feelings of people who have lost their son or daughter and must live with the grief for the rest of their lives. Your ten second cheap shot has no place in a caring and compassionate world. Learn to temper your sense of humor to notions of common decency.
In the end, it’s all about the Golden Rule: treat others as you would expect them to treat you. If you think it’s OK to suggest that Gay people should all die, don’t take offense when someone says all straight people should die. If you think it’s OK to suggest someone with black skin is expendable, don’t take offense when someone says people with your skin color are unimportant. If you think it’s OK to suggest deadly disease is “culling the herd”, don’t be upset when you’re asked to kill your own kids to help lower the human population count. What’s fair is fair, right?
Trolls: Get a life. You’re not funny. You’re spreading hate. You’re poisoning people against each other at a time in history when we need each other the most. Keep your asinine opinions to yourself and do not cowardly hide behind your keyboard typing invective which you know you could NEVER say in public without getting a beating in return.
A little compassion for others would do us all a ton of good. Keep your mouth shut if that concept doesn’t interest you.