Who are the trolls? Who are the people who supposedly seem to love bringing others down, trash-talking, laughing “at” someone versus “with” someone? Come to think about it, who are the ‘hecklers’ in a crowd at sporting events, political events, or comedy shows, trying to get into someone else’s head, piss them off, or elicit some response? Oh wait, lots of us trash-talk when we play sports. And many of us have said something hurtful to our own loved ones when we argue. Are trolls and hecklers really that far from the ‘norm’? And what if all they are doing is underscoring our own insecurities and weaknesses?
We all know the person who loves to trash-talk (or maybe we’re that person). Some of the best athletes are also the biggest trash-talkers. For anyone who plays sports, we all seem to do it for slightly different reasons, but arguably, the main two are either: 1. Get into someone else’s head (for various reasons) or 2. Boost ourselves up.
If we’re battling someone, whether it’s a sport or any other type of competition, we’re giving it our all. We’re analyzing their every move, their flaws, their strengths, and when we find something, we aim to capitalize on it. Let’s say we’re playing a basketball player who is extremely good at shooting three-point shots, so we tell them, “You couldn’t dribble past my grandmother.” We constantly goad them to take the ball in, which is exactly what we want.
This trash-talk expands into the stands where fans are goading each other the same way. Generally, in sports, it’s ‘all in good fun.’ However, some people seem to take it too far, and that’s when fights occur. The problem is ‘too far’ is different for every single person.
Going Too Far
It’s tough when we hear about negative things happening due to bullying or some form of trolling. It’s completely unacceptable, yet there’s a problem with our traditional method of addressing the problem. We often look to make our words ‘politically correct.’ We attempt to please everyone by always walking the line, not saying anything that could possibly hurt someone else’s feelings.
The problem is that when we operate this way for too long, we go too far in the other direction. On one hand, we’ve solved trash-talk, bullying and trolling, but then, on the other, we create a society that can only speak their minds in secret, likely harboring a lot more problems in the long run.
One person might be triggered by a ‘racial slur’ even if there was no malice behind the term. Another person may be triggered by curse words. Another person may be triggered by a prayer. The point is, there is no easy line to tell us when things are too far, and as such, the concept of ‘freedom of speech’ regardless of what that speech is must remain.
While we can typically agree that anyone spouting false statements knowingly is pretty low, how often are they really just someone’s opinion? Is there anything we can do to stop it? Should we? And if not, what are our options?
Social interactions all have a purpose or meaning that is derived, requiring that we take action (to include inaction). As long as we’re ok with the interaction, and we don’t feel the need to ‘beat’ the other person in some way and don’t need to ‘boost ourselves up’ for some reason, there is a pretty low chance we’ll feel any desire to trash-talk anyone.
Yet, the moment that changes, the moment we get into a ‘conflict,’ it becomes something that we need to ‘win.’ Once that happens, things quickly escalate, and attempts to manipulate start to come out. It doesn’t matter if it’s a friend, a family member, or a stranger, if our need to ‘win’ is larger than our desire to keep the peace, there’s a good chance we’re going to target someone’s insecurities and weaknesses.
When we’re arguing with someone and target their insecurities, it could come out very naturally, as if we’ve been analyzing social interactions our entire lives (go figure). With arguments and social conflict, if we aren’t careful and learn to manage our emotions, very instinctual patterns arise. In many cases, we aren’t even intentionally picking on someone else.
Cyberbullying and “IRL” bullying are the same concept. It seems pretty closely related to trolling, yet generally, it’s when things are escalated, persistent, or cause physical harm. But when a bully beats another person up, what are they gaining from it? Did they just want to emphasize that the other person was ‘stupid’ or ‘lame’? To who? What’s the point? It’s no different than our other conflicts: 1. Get into someone’s head (for various reasons) or 2. Boost themselves up.
What we want to underscore here is that, regardless of the bully’s reasoning, it’s very obvious that they seem to have a knack for identifying weaknesses, flaws, and insecurities.
Not only are they pros at identifying weaknesses, but they are also deliberately choosing their victims based on those weaknesses, whereas an athlete is doing it in sport, and the rest of us are doing it in conjunction with general social interactions that occur (or group think … which we won’t address today…).
Intent to Troll
We’re going to classify a troll as anyone who is intentionally targeting another person’s weaknesses, flaws, or insecurities, regardless of the purpose or result. That means that whether the trolling is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is subjective. It completely depends on the person or group being trolled. For example, someone who trolls a spam caller would probably be considered a ‘good troll,’ but what about someone who trolls for a political purpose?
What about trolls that are doing it for humor or satire? Are they good or bad? What about a troll who says false things versus a troll that says true things? The bottom line is we know that trolling is nothing new – defamation and ‘hecklers’ have been around since the dawn of man. The likelihood of us being able to ‘fix’ it and make them go away is zero. So why not find something we can use to our advantage if it’s going to be here?
The Troll Advantage
Trolling is here to stay; there may be some who have no ill intent, whereas others have nothing but ill intent. Yet, in all cases, we know at least that the bottom line is that they target our weaknesses, flaws, and insecurities. That means that we can use trolls to our advantage.
If there’s something that a troll says that completely enrages us or hits that nerve just right, know that they are on to us. They’ve seen through something and pinpointed a weakness or an insecurity. Even if whatever they are saying isn’t true, if it strikes a chord, there’s something about it that worries us, something that needs to be hardened or worked on.
So next time we encounter a troll that strikes that chord just right, please don’t “feel sorry” for them like so many people like to say. We have no idea what the troll’s intent was. Instead, take it in, learn, improve, and harden ourselves until we can ignore, laugh, or heck, troll them back.