If you’re on social media, you’ve come across internet trolls. They’re on every social media platform, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok. It’s almost impossible to avoid them. Read today’s GKIS article to find out why people troll and how you can minimize your child’s risk of being targeted.
What are internet trolls?
An internet troll is someone who makes intentionally inflammatory, rude, or upsetting statements online to elicit strong emotional responses in viewers or to steer the conversation off-topic. I Popular influencers, like Perez Hilton, have become famous for their trolling. Unfortunately, even your friends and family can act like trolls when they’re fired up about a certain topic. But if a “friend” online regularly shows troll-like behavior, it’s best to steer clear of them or, even better, block them altogether.
Why do people troll?
- To feel empowered
- There are few consequences
- They are immature and think it’s funny
- They feel so passionate about their topic they get emotionally triggered
- They’re envious and want to take the poster down
- They’re in a bad mood ii
- They are feeling incited by other trolls ii
- They are in a spiral of negativity ii
How to Spot an Internet Troll
Internet trolls are easy to spot once you are aware of certain online behavior patterns.
- They don’t show their own face in their profile image. Instead, they typically use a seemingly “funny” photo of a cartoon character, a celebrity photo, or a random image.
- Their username is a nickname rather than their real name.
- Their education is listed “The School of Hard Knocks” or some other cliché.
- They are typically following several accounts but have few to no followers themselves.
- They usually have a lot of memes on their profile.
- There often have several offensive and controversial posts or interactions with controversial comments.
- They usually take extreme political or opinion positions on certain issues and repeatedly focus on them.
- They are likely attacking more than one account.
Trolls get creative when it comes to targeting their victim. They have come up with several tactics to use when trolling their victims such as refusing to back down on known fallacies, troll telephone, aggressively poor reading comprehension, threats and doxxing, and it wasn’t me. All these tactics have their own ways in which trolling takes place. iv
Used to insult and provoke their victim, like “libtard,” “heartbreaker,” and even more personalized attacks like “DanielleSucks.”
Used to insinuate that a person’s post can’t possibly be what they meant and to provoke shame and humiliation (e.g., “Did you really just say you agree with him?”)
Isolating the Victim
Making the victim feel small for pretending to have or creating an “army” of allies.
Used to belittle the victim, for example responding “HAHAHA” or “Wow” or “You’re so dumb I can’t even understand you.” iii
Refusing to Back Down with a Known Fallacy
Also known as “lying about lying”, this strategy is common when trolls are trying to hurt you professionally
This means that the troll passes rumors from one troll to the next, so it becomes a repeating cycle.
Aggressively Poor Reading Comprehension
This refers to web the troll claims you wrote/said something you did not and then using “your own words” against you.
Doxxing refers to posting peoples personal information online for the public to see and making their victim feel unsafe. Doxing frequently escalates to direct threatening and cyberstalking.
It Wasn’t Me
If a victim dares to publicize that they are getting trolled, the troll acts shocked and blames the victim for not being able to take a joke or that you asked for it by responding. This is a form of gas lighting.
Signs That Your Child Might Be Getting “Trolled”
If a child is frequently interacting with a troll, they may show signs they are being cyberbullies. Here are some signs from Dr. Bennett’s book, Screen Time in the Mean Time: A Parenting Guide to Get Kids and Teens Internet Safe, to look out for:
- mood changes
- distancing themselves from you and their friends
- changing appearance and/or ways they act
- using new slang
- deleting their browser history or switching windows when you walk in like they’re ashamed
- frequently asking for reassurance
- thoughts of self-harm
Steps to Defeating Internet Trolls
Understand who is harassing you.
According to write Ragen Chastain, there are three types of troll attackers: The Thinker who often fabricates stories, The Zombie Army whose main goal is to hurt the person they are attacking where it hurts, and the The Zealot who is obsessive about ruining your life by making fake profiles and websites about you just to express their hate for you. Iv
Find out why they are harassing you.
Often times this is not evident. It may be as simple as a teenager who has too much time. Trolls are made, not born into being a troll ii.
Question yourself if the engagement is adding anything positive to your life.
Try these tactics to remove yourself from the fight.
- Bore them into disengagement by ignoring them.
- Simply type, “I don’t feed trolls.”
- Mute/Block/or Blacklist them.
- Put your account on private. V
Why is trolling potentially harmful to kids?
Kids are especially vulnerable to trolling due to lack of experience and immature social skills. One unexpected or shocking negative comment online can have a damaging impact and has been demonstrated to contribute to clinically impairments like depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Once when I was younger, peers posted cruel comments on my Facebook profile body shaming me and calling me fat and gross. That post changed the way I viewed myself in ways I still struggle with today at the age of 22.
What to do if Your Child is Being Trolled
- Suggest a cooling-off period from the forum where the trolling is occurring.
- Adopt our free Connected Family Screen Agreement to start important safety discussions where your kids learn from you and you learn from them. A strong parent-child alliance is your best defense against bad actors online.
- Set parental controls and adopt smart tech tools, like those offered in our Screen Safety Tool Kit. With this tool kit you will gain the knowledge to set up screen monitoring so that way if your child is experiencing trolls and not telling you, you will be able to be notify yourself. Also setting up parental controls with the help of this tool kit will also be valuable because it will allow you to give your child a safer internet experience. You can get this valuable tool kit for $37 off the GKIS website.
- Set up your home and adopt rules for smart and safe screen use using our family tested blueprint in our Connected Family Course. This 10-step course offers new and creative ways to get your household screen safe. It takes less than 2 hours!
We have all seen how trolls harm confidence and stop cooperative dialogue online. It’s tough enough for adults to cope with, but for kids it can be really painful. Check out our Screen Safety Toolkit to improve your family’s online safety. A special thank you to Danielle Rivera for researching and co-writing this article.
Onward to More Awesome Parenting,
Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty
[i]Vicente, Vann (2020). What Is an Internet Troll? Retrieved from https://www.howtogeek.com/465416/what-is-an-internet-troll-and-how-to-handle-trolls/
[ii]Kubota, Taylor (2017). Stanford research shows that anyone can become an Internet Troll. Retrieved from https://news.stanford.edu/2017/02/06/stanford-research-shows-anyone-can-become-internet-troll/
[iii]Brandau, Melvina (2016). Adolescent Victims’ Experiences with Cyberbullying: A Grounded Theory Study. Retrieved from https://commons.und.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2880&context=theses
[iv]A Medium Corporation (2018). The Complete Guide to Understanding and Dealing with Online Trolls. Retrieved from https://medium.com/better-humans/the-complete-guide-to-understanding-and-dealing-with-online-trolls-4a606ae25c2c