Internet Trolling and the Dehumanization of Society

How destructive is Internet Trollling?


What is Internet Trolling?

Internet Trolling is the use of a negative persona or attitude online that is designed to provoke a response of emotional reaction from others. Trolling takes place in any forum where people online are allowed to communicate with one another: TwitterFacebookYouTubeInstagram, email, chat rooms, and blogs are all places where internet trolling takes place. What internet trolls do ranges from clever pranks to harassment to violent threats. There’s also doxing–publishing personal data, such as Social Security numbers and bank accounts–and swatting, calling in an emergency to a victim’s house so the SWAT team busts in (Stein, 2016). Internet Trolling is significantly impactful on young people. In 2012 Amanda Todd  a teen from British Columbia posted a YouTube video outlining how she was bullied by internet trolls, she committed suicide shortly after the publication of her video.

Check it out: 10 Types of Internet Trolls You Can Meet Online

How Trolling is Dehumanizing?

Although often linked to genocide and war, dehumanization should not necessarily be limited to such extreme settings.  Central to the literature on infrahumanization is the realization that people on a daily basis attribute more or less humanness to other people (Lammers and Stapel, 2011). Dehumanization is attributable to an increased rift between people; a separation or disconnectedness many people blame on the increased prevalence of social media. Dehumanization is one of several means by which inhibitions against harming others are overridden.Conceiving of those whom we wish to harm as mere animals make it permissible to do violence to them, and conceiving of them as dangerous animals renders such violence obligatory (Smith, 2016). 

Cognitive Dissonance is a theory that might play a role in how people’s behaviours change when engaged in online activities.  When people act in a certain way online (trolling for example) it’s possible they might change their beliefs to justify their actions. For example, people who insult strangers constantly on Twitter are likely to be less sympathetic and caring to people they do not know. Cognitive Dissonance has also been used to explain how people participated in the Holocaust. Are the psychological processes that influence mass genocide the same that have given rise to internet trolling?  

The Rise of Internet Trolling

Internet trolling is changing the way in which people use the internet. A Pew Research Center survey published two years ago found that 70% of 18-to-24-year-olds who use the Internet had experienced harassment, and 26% of women that age said they’d been stalked online (Stein, 2016). A 2014 study published in the psychology journal Personality and Individual Differences found that the approximately 5% of Internet users who self-identified as trolls scored extremely high in the dark tetrad of personality traits: narcissism, psychopathy, Machiavellianism and, especially, sadism (Stein, 2016). Trolling is also having a huge effect on people deciding to become disengaged in certain social media platforms because of constant harassment from trolls.For example, Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones was forced to leave Twitter after racist and sexist abuse from online trolls. At what point do the benefits of digital technology become outweighed by the negatives associated with online harassment?

Useful Links

Millennials Find Technology Dehumanizing

Is Technology Making us Less Human?Is Technology Making us Less Human?

Why do People Act Differently Online?

Ghostbusters Star Becomes Victim of Online Trolling


Lammers, J., & Stapel, D. (2011). Power increases dehumanization. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 14(1), 113-126. doi:10.1177/1368430210370042

Schneier, M. (2016, April 17). A ‘Battle Cry’ On Internet Trolling. New York Times. pp. 1-9

Smith, D. L. (2016). Paradoxes of dehumanization. Social Theory and Practice, 42(2), 416

Stein, J. (2016, August 18). How Trolls are Ruining the Internet. Time Magazine. Retrieved from

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