There’s an estimated total of 44 million social media users in the United Kingdom at Statistica’s last count, which was in early 2018.
That’s 66 per cent of us who are selfie-ing, Story-ing and Snapchatting every day, and while many would now count a scroll through Instagram as part of their everyday routine, most would also agree it’s not long before they spot a mean comment left by a stranger, to another stranger.
The word troll became much more than a grouchy fairytale character back in 2014 when its Oxford Dictionary definition was updated to incorporate ‘a person who makes a willfully offensive or provocative online post’.
Nowadays, it’s normal for news sites to have anti trolling systems in place for their comments sections, and the likes of Chrissy Teigen, Gigi Hadid and Amy Schumer are just some of the stars that openly call out online tormentors.
The Duchess of Sussex, before she joined the royal family, even spoke out about how online negativity affected her, and TV presenter Caroline Flack suffered trolling in the months before her unfortunate death, but what is the motive behind posting these repugnant messages?
Well, research has shown that trolls tend to have an inability to form healthy relationships offline, and they’re not always the sad, bitter loners that we might expect, and not always men, female trolls are on the increase, but their relationships will certainly lack stability and they may feel that they’re not valued enough by their families or partner.
Often, they lose a feeling of responsibility and self-awareness, a process known as deindividuation, and their anonymity means that they do not need to regulate their behaviour online.
It’s comparable to the way people might behave in a raucous crowd or as a football hooligan, normal rules of social engagement are lost in the masses.
Trolling is deemed a more specific kind of behaviour. It’s people who engage in inappropriate behaviour by posting damaging content purely as it’s an end in its own right.
The reasons for this are due to various factors, including seeking entertainment value and certain personality traits such as sadism and psychopathy. And they’re driven by status. Attracting attention, hurting or upsetting people, even getting online support from other trolls, which gives them a feeling of self-worth and importance that is likely lacking in their day to day offline lives.
As for posting hurtful messages to celebrities and those in the public eye, it’s the visibility that reinforces the behaviour, and it amplifies all these elements of course.
It’s part of the excitement and entertainment that even those trolls who choose not to be nameless find even more acceptable, as they can easily see provocative and spiteful remarks made by others.
But we shouldn’t react to these rude people on social media because it’s so easy to encounter rude people and react to the racing heartbeat and flushed face that they’ve caused you, and when it happens you must understand it isn’t about you.
And it’s the anonymity factor that contributes to online incivility and the actual lack of eye contact that enables them to be particularly offensive to people.
These people are continually negative and critical, so their attitude is bound to affect the way they view others, and people with low self-esteem frequently conceal their own insecurities by flexing their verbal muscles, being rude and insensitive, in an endeavour to make themselves feel strong.