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It’s no secret that people on the Internet can be mean. That’s an unfortunate fact of online culture: when you give people anonymity Can You Really Be Anonymous Online? Can You Really Be Anonymous Online? We all have things we'd rather not tell the world about. I think it's time we clear up a few things about anonymity online -- and answer once and for all, whether it's really possible. Read More , they often feel free to say whatever they want with no regard for how it may affect others. After all, when you’re just typing words into a machine, it’s easy to forget that there are real people reading those words on the other side of the screen.

But what happens when you meet and confront a troll 5 Most Effective Ways To Deal With Arrogant Internet Trolls 5 Most Effective Ways To Deal With Arrogant Internet Trolls The Internet is without doubt a great invention. Unfortunately, no one so far has been able to develop and anti-troll device that will help to make it a more civilized place. You might have come... Read More face to face? Well, let’s find out…

Chris Gethard Confronts His Internet Tormentor

In 2010, actor and comedian Chris Gethard noticed a scathing review of his work on IMDb. The author was relentless, noting that Gethard should never act again and suggesting that his agent should consider hanging herself. Naturally, Gethard was curious about why someone hated him so much — so he decided to track down the troll.

Some Catfish-style detective work led Gethard to the Facebook profile of a guy named Travis. He sent him a friend request and asked if he’d like to chat on camera sometime. In 2011, Travis made it to New York, and the two of them met up to record one of the most awkward exchanges I’ve ever seen.

Travis said he stands by everything he wrote in his original post and took every opportunity to throw more jabs during the interview. However, he did provide some insight into the mentality of a troll.

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“It allows you to say things that you wouldn’t necessarily say to someone’s face,” he said. “With that being said, you’re not trying to hurt someone’s feelings, and you don’t assume that somebody is trolling their own name and watching that and being made sad by it.”

“It’s just jibber-jabber. You just get out there, you say things, you talk, and no one’s listening.” He pauses and looks at Gethard. “Except for you.”

Travis repeatedly noted that he and other trolls are just having a good time and that his online comments don’t reflect any real emotion. He also said that he’s less likely to troll people online if he knows them personally, even if they’re only acquaintances — because he doesn’t want to hurt someone he knows.

But if it’s just that guy from that TV show he hates? Fair game.

The BBC Tracks Down Notorious Troll “Nimrod Severn”

After speaking to a source familiar with online trolling culture, the BBC managed to put a face to the notorious troll known only as “Nimrod Severn.” His real name is Darren Burton, and his favorite pastime is visiting RIP tribute pages on Facebook and leaving hateful, racist comments about the deceased.

Why would someone do this? When a reporter from the BBC confronted Mr. Burton, he offered little explanation for his behavior — though it’s worth noting that he seems just as terrible in person as his anonymous remarks suggest.

When asked if he ever thinks about the people he’s hurting, Burton replies: “What do I think? I think fuck ’em. That’s what I think.”

The reporter later asks how he justifies his actions.

“Is it breaking the law?” Burton asks. (In some cases, the answer is yes.) He then goes on to claim that because Facebook is an “open forum,” he can say what he wants.

No remorse. No empathy.

Lindy West Confronts The Troll Who Stole Her Dead Father’s Identity To Harass Her

lindy west

Lindy West is a writer who frequently covers controversial topics, so she’s no stranger to online hate Dealing With Online Haters: The Right Way & The Wrong Way Dealing With Online Haters: The Right Way & The Wrong Way What Anne Hathaway, Demi Lovato and Wal-Mart can teach you about dealing with trolls. Read More . She articulates this quite well in a Guardian story:

Being harassed on the Internet is such a normal, common part of my life that I’m always surprised when other people find it surprising. You’re telling me you don’t have hundreds of men popping into your cubicle in the accounting department of your mid-sized, regional dry-goods distributor to inform you that – hmm – you’re too fat to rape, but perhaps they’ll saw you up with an electric knife? No? Just me? People who don’t spend much time on the internet are invariably shocked to discover the barbarism – the eager abandonment of the social contract – that so many of us face simply for doing our jobs.

But despite the thick skin she’s developed over the years, she was taken aback (to say the least) when her dead father contacted her on Twitter.

“Someone — bored, apparently, with the usual angles of harassment — had made a fake Twitter account purporting to be my dead dad, featuring a stolen, beloved photo of him, for no reason other than to hurt me,” she writes. “The name on the account was “PawWestDonezo”, because my father’s name was Paul West, and a difficult battle with prostate cancer had rendered him “donezo” (goofy slang for “done”) just 18 months earlier.”

“Embarrassed father of an idiot,” the bio read. “Other two kids are fine though.” His location: “Dirt hole in Seattle.”

West didn’t know what to do. Typically, the best advice you’ll hear from people who regularly share things online is “don’t feed the trolls.” Ignore them and they’ll go away. And that had always been Lindy West’s policy — but this time she decided to go off script and discuss the whole thing publicly.

The result? The troll emailed her the very next day to apologize:

Hey Lindy, I don’t know why or even when I started trolling you. It wasn’t because of your stance on rape jokes. I don’t find them funny either.

I think my anger towards you stems from your happiness with your own being. It offended me because it served to highlight my unhappiness with my own self.

I have e-mailed you through 2 other gmail accounts just to send you idiotic insults.

I apologize for that.

I created the PaulWestDunzo@gmail.com account & Twitter account. (I have deleted both.)

I can’t say sorry enough.

It was the lowest thing I had ever done. When you included it in your latest Jezebel article it finally hit me. There is a living, breathing human being who is reading this shit. I am attacking someone who never harmed me in any way. And for no reason whatsoever.

I’m done being a troll.

Again I apologize.

I made donation in memory to your dad.

I wish you the best.

She later followed up with him to discuss the incident on an episode of This American Life. West and her troll talked for two-and-a-half hours.

“He was shockingly self-aware,” she said. “He told me that he didn’t hate me because of rape jokes — the timing was just a coincidence — he hated me because, to put it simply, I didn’t hate myself. Hearing him explain his choices in his own words, in his own voice, was heartbreaking and fascinating. He said that, at the time, he felt fat, unloved, ‘passionless’ and purposeless.”

He explained how he had changed since he stopped trolling her. He started taking better care of his health, he found a new girlfriend, and he went back to school to become a teacher. Becoming a volunteer at a school seems to have had a massive impact on him: “Seeing how their feelings get hurt by their peers,” he said, “on purpose or not, it derails them for the rest of the day. They’ll have their head on their desk and refuse to talk. As I’m watching this happen, I can’t help but think about the feelings that I hurt.”

He apologized again, and West forgave him.

“I didn’t mean to forgive him,” she said, “but I did.”

The Troll Mentality

internet troll

What can we conclude from all this? A few things:

  • Generally, trolling comments are nothing personal. Trolls project their insecurities onto others as a coping mechanism of sorts. They’re hurting, and they deal with it by making others hurt too.
  • In the heat of the moment, as trolls are blowing off steam in comment sections around the Web, they forget that a real human being is on the other side reading what they’ve written. The Internet creates a feeling of distance — if you’re not standing in front of someone, it doesn’t feel like what you’re saying will actually hurt them.
  • Sometimes, ignoring trolls and cyberbullies 5 Reasons You Really Don't Have To Worry If You're Cyberbullied [Opinion] 5 Reasons You Really Don't Have To Worry If You're Cyberbullied [Opinion] A lot of cyberbully "gurus" tell kids about making online posts - that what you post online you can never take back. The thing is, that's not entirely true. I'm here to give you a... Read More isn’t the best policy. A well-written response might just open the troll’s eyes and change their ways.

Have you ever dealt with a troll online? Or, have you ever been a troll? What are you thoughts on the mean-spirited troll culture of the Internet? Let us know in the comments below!

Image Credit: Trollface via Shutterstock, man via Shutterstock, The Guardian

  1. Joe
    March 30, 2016 at 8:58 pm

    The last one shows what we all should strive for: compassion, redemption, and forgiveness. Too often we treat trolls as not human and become a troll in our hatred for them. There is good and evil and real good doesn't dip into evil, even for good intentions. Hate creates more hate which creates more trolls.

  2. Guy McDowell
    June 17, 2015 at 1:30 am

    Reading this was possibly the best use of my time, today. Thank you.

    Very well done. I don't even hate you because you wrote it better than I ever could. ;)

  3. DonGateley
    June 14, 2015 at 2:40 am

    This identity is the result of an insane troll/stalker. I just couldn't drag his sickness around with me on the internet me any more and I made sure via a hiatus that he believes I've vanished from the face of the earth.

    This is what pisses me off about Facebook's "real identity" policy and why I don't use it. How dare they. The thing is that Zuckerberg knows full well of the exposure to harm this can cause people and just doesn't give a damn. Sociopath himself, I believe. He just doesn't relate to the dangers others can face. I sincerely hope there has been some reason for him to need a security clearance from the OPM.

  4. A41202813GMAIL ..
    June 13, 2015 at 11:27 pm

    Without Trolls The Internet Would Be ( Mostly ) Too Boring.

    Anyway, I Rather Have To Fight A Troll, Than Witness The Doings Of A Disgruntled Moderator ( They Do Exist, You Know, Hint, Hint ).

    GOOGLE FIBER WORLDWIDE, PLEASE !

  5. George Monroe
    June 13, 2015 at 1:53 am

    that was really interesting, not the way I thought it would go down. Really good to see a fair ending anyway.

    • Brad Merrill
      June 15, 2015 at 4:50 pm

      Thanks for reading and commenting, George!

  6. Eric Jay Palomar
    June 12, 2015 at 10:46 pm

    I think trolls need counseling.
    I'm just happy they quite don't exist in MUO.

    • Brad Merrill
      June 12, 2015 at 11:36 pm

      Thanks Eric! We do try to maintain a positive environment around here. :-)

  7. Amir Alavi
    June 12, 2015 at 5:01 pm

    The term "troll" is rather a relative label we assign to people whose views are not favourable to us. Just as we assign the label "conspiracy theorist" to those whose opinions differ from that of the mainstream. Such labeling is simply a means through which we victimise those who do not accept to be another member of the masses.

    • Brad Merrill
      June 12, 2015 at 8:09 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Amir! I think that definitely happens sometimes — but I would argue that it's fair to label someone a troll when they say mean and hurtful things simply for the sake of being mean and hurtful. If you think an actor (or politician, writer, etc.) sucks, you're more than welcome to say so — but what Travis wrote about Chris Gethard (for example) was taking it a bit far.

    • Matt Alexander
      June 12, 2015 at 8:19 pm

      >The term “troll” is rather a relative label we assign to people whose views are not favourable to us.

      Which of the three interactions in the article are simply "views not favorable to us?"

      I'd agree that people can overuse the label, but trolling is a real thing. If someone is posting purely to be belligerent and hurtful, they're indulging in a kind of low-grade sadism, for the thrill of antisocial venting without consequences. There have been psychological studies supporting this.

      https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-online-secrets/201409/internet-trolls-are-narcissists-psychopaths-and-sadists

  8. Michael Lacey
    June 12, 2015 at 4:26 pm

    20 years ago (ish) someone noted that "You only *get* broken people online." but now, thankfully, that's not true. We're all here.. Though I've noticed that the broken people are definitely still around :)

    • Brad Merrill
      June 12, 2015 at 8:10 pm

      Haha - yep, they're definitely still here. :-)

  9. fcd76218
    June 12, 2015 at 3:48 pm

    OTOH, quite a few people are all too ready to label someone a "troll". If someone does not share the same views and/or beliefs, automatically (s)he is a "troll". Some people expect to be "stroked" all the time. Whoever does not stroke them is a "troll".

    • Brad Merrill
      June 12, 2015 at 8:18 pm

      For sure. But I think we can all agree that saying mean and hurtful things just for the sake of being mean and hurtful justifies the "troll" label. Darren Burton in the video above is a good example. It's not about what views or beliefs he holds — he just hurts people to hurt people.

  10. BIll Dauterive
    June 12, 2015 at 2:21 pm

    Trolls are just sad pathetic creatures with a desperate need for attention. Notice that none mentioned in the article happened to have a sense of well being, or a good job, or a girl-friend or an active social life (by this I mean face-to-face social life).

    What was uncovered ..are pathetic little men with the outlook of mentally disturbed thirteen year-olds. Read a book, plant a tree, go hiking , learn a new skill..etc etc...

    • Brad Merrill
      June 12, 2015 at 8:24 pm

      Yep. Some people feel so bad about their own lives that they push others down as a means to feel better. It's sad.

  11. Jim Cleek
    June 12, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    This article can be summed up very simply:

    "Hurt people hurt people."

    Those people who are hurting find comfort in knowing there are others like them (as we all do). To make more people hurt like them they last out and end hurting others. Rather than trying to distance themselves from their hurt they pull other people down because for a moment it makes them feel better. The don't care about others because they are selfish.

    • Brad Merrill
      June 12, 2015 at 8:25 pm

      Couldn't have said it better myself, Jim.

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