Social media has always had an issue with trolls — people who say mean things online just because they think it is funny to hurt feelings. It used to be that they would make a fake social media account to say hurtful things or to bully or harass people online, but that is becoming more rare. Nowadays, the trolls don’t even hide their hate. But why? Is it becoming more socially acceptable to hate?
There are a couple of different thoughts about hate, but the prevailing idea is that most people aren’t naturally hateful, they sometimes just get worked up when they are in a group. They call this “mob mentality.” When people are part of a mob (a larger group of people), they are less likely to be singled out for the things that they individually say or do. They feel insulated and safer. Its how people are able to loot stores or break windows during a riot — if everyone is doing that stuff, they are less likely to be judged negatively by others or punished.
You see, that is part of being in a mob — it makes weak people feel stronger. They go along with the group because they don’t feel comfortable enough to stand by their convictions. These people who say mean things online or who participate in looting know that they are doing the wrong thing, but they don’t feel strong enough to stop others or not join in. It’s easier for them to go with the group because at the time, it seems like the popular and safer thing for them to do.
So if several people start saying mean things to you online, you can bet others will join in. These are the followers. But for there to be followers, you also need leaders. And these are the ones who cause the most problems. These are the trolls.
People who start the harassment of others on social media and influence others to do so are dangerous. Frequently they have a bad home life and they resent others who are happier. They don’t pick on you because you are bad, they pick on you because they feel bad and they are jealous that you don’t. So they want to make you feel like they do. That they aren’t making a fake account to pick on you or someone else just shows how desperate they’ve gotten in their own misery. They don’t even try to hide that they are angry — they don’t care who knows how angry they are.
When everyone doesn’t hide their anger online, it is because they know that there are so many other angry people out there. They feel like it is pretty good odds that they won’t get in trouble for the things they do because there is someone out there who is even angrier than they are and saying much worse things.
Think about all the YouTube videos you’ve seen where there are negative comments. Most of these people don’t think those comments are as bad as some of the other comments they’ve seen. But they are just feeding off the real trolls — the ones who only say the most hurtful things they can.
As a culture, in the Digital Age, we’ve gotten used to the idea of globalization. That is, we’re a huge planet with billions of people on it. And now, with social media, all these billions of people can interact. But social media is so big, there’s not enough police to watch everything. As a result, with social media, the world’s biggest mob has been created. People from many different countries can now say hurtful things online, knowing that they likely won’t get in trouble because they are too far away. But even people in your own town might bully you online because they think they won’t get caught.
We’re at an interesting point in human development. The internet might have been around since before you were born, but really, it isn’t very old at all. People are still figuring out how to use it and what the best way is for everything on the internet to work. As a result, we are pioneers in a new age of human existence. And like the pioneers, we all have to explore some dangerous areas that haven’t yet been explored in order to make everything safer. One day, the trolls will be dealt with. Inventors will figure out ways to stop them from being mean online and in social media. And once the trolls are all gone, other people will stop being mean as well.
If you need proof of that, there is a popular social media site called Reddit. On Reddit, there are a lot of trolls who used to run a forum called Fat People Hate. The whole goal of this forum was to say mean things about people who are overweight. Reddit finally decided this forum was mean — that it was only hurting people and not helping them, so Reddit closed Fat People Hate down. This made the trolls angry, but there was no place for them to post their anger, so they left. Once the trolls were gone, the followers settled down a lot as well. Reddit is a better place without Fat People Hate.
The problem with Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr is that there aren’t groups like this for the people who run these sites to shut down. The trolls have to be gotten rid of individually. And even when they have been deleted, they sometimes still come back. So social media isn’t perfect yet. But there are a lot of smart people working on getting rid of trolls for good. Maybe one day all of them will be gone and the internet can become a safer place. But in the meantime, just know that when people use their real name to harass or bully you online, it just makes them easier to be caught. Make sure you do your part in making the internet safer — if someone bullies or harrasses you online, especially someone you know, turn them in. It might not always work yet, but any trolls you stop are also trolls you stop from hurting others.
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