Internet Trolling and the Dehumanization of Society

How destructive is Internet Trollling?

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What is Internet Trolling?

Internet Trolling is the use of a negative persona or attitude online that is designed to provoke an emotional reaction from others.  TwitterFacebookYouTubeInstagram, email, chat rooms, and blogs are all places where internet trolling takes place. Internet Trolling ranges from clever pranks to harassment and violent threats. Internet Trolling can be 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, and then she committed suicide shortly after.

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.  People on a daily basis attribute humanness, more or less, 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 the Internet and 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 insignificant can make it permissible to do violence to them, and conceiving of them as dangerous renders such violence obligatory (Smith, 2016). 

Cognitive Dissonance is a theory that might play a role in how people’s behaviours change when they engage in online activities.  When people act in a certain way online (trolling for example), it is possible that they might change their beliefs offline to match and their online actions.  In other words, they are trying to remove dissonance or be consistent with their online and offline behaviours. For example, people who insult strangers constantly through social media may learn to be less sympathetic to people in real life.

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 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 reported that Internet users who self-identified as Internet trolls scored extremely high in dark personality traits: narcissism, psychopathy, Machiavellianism and sadism (Stein, 2016). Trolling is also causing people to disengage from social media platforms to protect themselves from Internet trolls. For example, Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones was forced to leave Twitter after experiencing 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

References

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 http://time.com/4457110/internet-trolls/

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