In the spring, the alpha
wolf sits high on a ledge looking out over the young wolf pups as they play and
get socialized by the older wolves. When an older wolf humiliates a young wolf
pup, the appropriate response is for the wolf pup to put their tale between
their legs and run away. It’s all about respect. However, every once in a
while, there is a pup who will not play the game according to the rules of the social
group. What happens? The alpha wolf will summarily kill the young pup.
What good is a member of the group who will not align with the normative order, respect the senior members, and appreciate the sheer pride of being accepted as a member of the group in good standing?
Whether metaphorically or literally, every social group works exactly the same way.
* * * * *
Pride and humiliation are serious business. It is extremely complex because one person’s shame, degradation, and humiliation will be another person’s schadenfreude. And then there is the problem of hubris, when we get carried away with our pride so much that we only invite our own humiliation. Social life is so paradoxically complex that it is possible to dive deep into pride and to surface mired in humiliation. Our social genius who fell into the pool at the party accidentally-on-purpose demonstrates the converse case: by taking a deep dive into social humiliation he was able to emerge from the party crowned with pride. It is a tenuous yin-yang type of balance that one must learn to continually engage in doing the social dance of pride and humiliation.
So, where did trolling come from – what kind of unholy social phenomenon is this? Well, it is just that – an unholy dance of humiliation executed with a vengeance for all its worth. Why do people do it? Because they can. It is as if the troll has found a legal loophole in the normative order of crime and punishment. You can get away with social murder online. And as soon as people get the power to engage in untold humiliation and to do so anonymously so that no blame or humiliation will ever be visited upon them for doing so, you can bet that what will ensue is a veritable orgy of humiliation – you can wait for that to happen. But, you can’t politely ask for it to stop. It also has to do with the safety of the anonymity factor and the idea of trolls moving far beyond their small local lives to humiliate people anywhere in the online world.
We all recognize the term cyberbullying. A recent article by Alex Berezo describes the cyberbullying of scientists. This cyberbullying is carried out by sending emails instructing people how to troll scientists they want to protest or ruin outright. We can suppose that (a) bullying is a non-anonymous, localized phenomenon – like kids bullying schoolmates online or at school, (b) cyberbullying may be local or nonlocal, it may be anonymous or not, and (c) trolling is cyberbullying that is an anonymous, and nonlocal phenomenon – like the legions of critics dropping spiteful commentary all over the web. By the way, in Part 3, I will argue trolls are not psychopaths or Machiavellians, they are just closet sadists.
This blog series is not focusing on the victims of bullies or trolls. For example, the stronger a child’s autistic perception, the more likely they are to be bullied in school, and that is not at issue here. Yet, online victims of trolls could be almost anybody. Interestingly, the Berezo article about cyberbullying of scientists depicts sending emails with instructions for harassment – that amounts to cyberbullying by sending instructions for trolling. By the way, I just want to point out that it is insightful and ironic to me that we call it Autism Spectrum Disorder, but we will likely never have a Bullying Disorder. Don’t hold your breath, almost all psychiatric disorders target people with social skills problems. On the other hand, as a social adept, you can be the biggest bully in school, ruin somebody’s day every day, and never qualify for a psychiatric diagnosis. The kid that gets bullied and does not have the social skills to protect themselves will sooner be labelled with a disorder – but that’s another post.
Bullies are social adepts who like to intimidate people who they can intimidate easily. Trolls are like cowardly, wannabe bullies. Trolls have more than likely been bullied, and they carry the rage of it into innocently waiting commentary boxes online. Anonymous trolls have been seduced by the anonymity of the web, which allows them to live out otherwise suppressed social humiliation fantasies with a vengeance.
Almost by definition, in normal social life the act of relentlessly showering another person with shame, degradation, and humiliation is a ticket to one’s own humiliation and punishment. However, in the special case of the online troll, we have a type of person who has lusted for the ability to crush someone socially and humiliate them to death, and to get away with it and suffer no recriminations whatsoever. It is like defying gravity. But, defying the social gravity of the normative order is actually more difficult than defying physical gravity. The ability to simultaneously reign down endless humiliation on someone while being completely free from punishment and humiliation is some kind of ultimate fantasy for a certain type of person who craves the sadistic thrill of being completely free to humiliate someone else to death in front of other people.
People who troll know the fear of humiliation. They know everybody dreads it to the point of being phobically anxiety-ridden about it. They also know that there is more exposure for comments online today than ever was accessed by any human using any other form of communication. From a sociopsychological perspective, since earliest childhood, there are two fundamental responses to humiliation and punishment, metaphorically speaking. Consider the universal experience of every youngster in society. When we are young, we get scolded by authority figures. At first, it’s our parents. Later it might be other family members, neighbors, teachers, and so on. We have all had to endure the shame, degradation, and humiliation of messing up in front of other people, and then being scolded, and even punished.
There are two possible takeaways. The first is to infer something like this: it really is humiliating to be scolded and punished by authority figures for not following the rules – for this reason, I am going to try to always be a good person who hopefully never gets scolded or punished. It is obviously much better to be a good person than a bad person.
However, an equally inevitable take-away is something like this: it really is humiliating to be scolded and punished by authority figures for not following the rules – for this reason, I am going to try to always be the authority figure who hopefully always does the scolding and the punishing. It is obviously much better to be an authority figure than the person getting scolded and punished.
Perhaps that is why supporters of the Clinton campaign launched their own trolling Super Pac about one month after Bill Clinton announced this trolling has got to stop. “Hillary Clinton's well-heeled backers have opened a new frontier in digital campaigning, one that seems to have been inspired by some of the Internet's worst instincts. Correct the Record, a super PAC coordinating with Clinton's campaign, is spending some $1 million to find and confront social media users who post unflattering messages about the Democratic front-runner.” In other words, this Super PAC exists to do some trolling of its own in an effort to counter-balance the onslaught of trolling that the Clinton campaign has experienced.
To be good or to be the punisher? That is the question. In reality, we each have both aspects in us, but to differing degrees. A troll is someone who definitely hankers for authority and the right and privilege to humiliate people at will – like a little Caesar. A group of trolls descending upon an online victim like a bunch of buzzards is collectively giving each other permission to humiliate someone to death – like a gang of little Caesars. What descended upon Leslie Jones in Summer 2016 was a veritable army of little Caesars.
-End Post 2 of 3 Post Series-
Berezow, Alex. (2016). Cyberbullying: The Strategy to Destroy Scientists. American Council of Science and Health. Retrieved from http://acsh.org/news/2016/10/05/cyberbullying-strategy-destroy-scientists-10263