I love the internet. I love that for a critical thinker, most of the answers in the world can be Googled. That said, there have been too many incidences lately of the internet being used from a negative motivation that it's prompted my to say my piece. Not on anyone's site, page, or discussion but my own. I have always been interested in comments sections. Why? Perhaps because the sociology of people posting passive aggressive (and sometimes simply aggressive) comments behind the guise of anonymity interests me. Even when using one's own name, people post things online that they would never say to your face, as this would be socially unacceptable and cause you to come across as grumpy, miserable, or mean. I suppose people are not always making the connection between their online personalities and their real-life ones. In larger cities, people are more anonymous - in a smaller town, everyone is connected by 2 degrees of separation at most (give or take). By tomorrow, most of the people I bump into will know where I walked my dog this morning. Add in online networks, and this phenomenon quickly magnifies.
People who have never spoken a word to you in person may pop out of the woodwork when they misunderstand something they read, or simply don't take the time to think critically about possible intent or consequence. It certainly makes you wonder where the motivation comes from. Perhaps it is simply, as the picture suggests, an attempt at thought leadership, but it's nice to think that people might generate their own opinions based on fact, not Facebook.
In any case, apply this to some of the online harrassment and bullying that we are all so aware of in this field on the parts of our clients. Individuals are made fun of, and are the recipients of a barrage of negative comments because they have been misinterpreted, rather than accepted, by their peers. In a field where it is our goal to be open-minded, positive, and accepting, such comments on local charity pages from individuals in the field have struck me as highly ironic.
When posting online, perhaps we should follow a few simple unwritten rules (going back to my clinical work). See the following link for more on how we sometimes need to teach these rules explicitly to people using the internet. (Source: http://isc.sagepub.com/content/36/5/279.short)
1. When someone posts something, it has the potential to go to millions of people. Chances are slim to none (according to simple statistics), that the post is about you. Posting as if it is might make you look self-centred.
2. When you reply negatively to an online post, you are starting an argument. If you are feeling angry when you type, you are probably replying negatively. There are some great tips here: http://www.studygs.net/listening.htm. Consider them if you wish to engage in discussion as opposed to argument.
3. If you disagree or don't fully understand a comment, use a personal message, not a public post. Posting inflammatory remarks in an online thread can make you look argumentative and negative and will shut down communication. Personal messages are much more like a human conversation. Even better - pick up the phone and speak directly.
4. Ask yourself before clicking 'post': Would I say this to this person if we were talking face to face? How might I word it differently in person? Try rewording the message as if you were speaking face to face.
5. Bear in mind that everything you post online is permanent. You can delete comments, pictures or videos, but once it is out there even for a moment, someone can take a screen shot, and it will never go away. Be prepared to stand behind every word you include in a post or do not post it at all.
In summary, think before you speak / post. Everything you say can and will be used against you when there is friction, real or perceived. Don't let it happen. Be human - speak directly, and have real conversations. If you feel good about having your voice heard, be more assertive in doing so in real life - politely, with respect, and in a way which will will have you coming across as professional and assertive, not unprofessional and aggressive. Can't we all just get along?
Application of the term troll is subjective. Some readers may characterize a post as trolling, while others may regard the same post as a legitimate contribution to the discussion, even if controversial. Like any pejorative term, it can be used as an ad hominem attack, suggesting a negative motivation.
As noted in an OS News article titled "Why People Troll and How to Stop Them" (January 25, 2012), "The traditional definition of trolling includes intent. That is, trolls purposely disrupt forums. This definition is too narrow. Whether someone intends to disrupt a thread or not, the results are the same if they do." Others have addressed the same issue, e.g., Claire Hardaker, in her Ph.D. thesis "Trolling in asynchronous computer-mediated communication: From user discussions to academic definitions", and Dr. Phil. Popular recognition of the existence (and prevalence) of non-deliberate, "accidental trolls", has been documented widely, in sources as diverse as the Urban Dictionary, Nicole Sullivan's keynote speech at the 2012 Fluent Conference, titled "Don't Feed the Trolls" Gizmodo, online opinions on the subject written by Silicon Valley executives and comics.
Regardless of the circumstances, controversial posts may attract a particularly strong response from those unfamiliar with the robust dialogue found in some online, rather than physical, communities. Experienced participants in online forums know that the most effective way to discourage a troll is usually to ignore it, because responding tends to encourage trolls to continue disruptive posts – hence the often-seen warning: "Please do not feed the trolls".
A popular early article defining and explaining the issue of Internet Trolls included the suggestion, "The only way to deal with trolls is to limit your reaction to reminding others not to respond to trolls."
Casey Burgess has a B.Sc.in Psychology, an M.A. in Education (Curriculum and Instruction), and a Ph.D. in progress in Education (Cognition and Learning). She has 20 years experience with direct service, curriculum development, workshop facilitation, and supervisory experience supporting children who have Autism Spectrum Disorders, and their families. She currently frames her work using a developmental, relationship-based, self-regulation lens.