Why People Are Terrible Online

December 17, 2018
Dr. Jesse Fox speaking at Columbus Science Pub

Jesse Fox, who received her Ph.D. from Stanford University, is an Associate Professor in the School of Communication at The Ohio State University and Director of the Virtual Environment, Communication Technology, and Online Research (VECTOR) Lab. She is a 3-time science pub presenter after her event last week on Internet trolls as online harassment. This is not a novel phenomenon, with rising internet popularity today it can be described as a rave in cyber space. The term trolling was coined from fisherman, it refers to the act of sending out a line and pulling it slowly along until something takes the bait. On the internet, trolls try to pull in others, they commit intentional acts to get an emotional negative reaction. One of the most famous troll cases came after the death of Harambe, the gorilla from the Cincinnati Zoo. Harambe’s death resulted in mass tweets and trolls in his name eventually leading to the Cincinnati Zoo deactivating their account after they could no longer have an online presence without being overwhelmed with memes and trolls. 


Dr. Fox went through the different fundaments of trolls such as affordances, bandwidth, visibility, and scalability. From there, she went on to discuss the different approaches to trolling along with stranger danger, dog-piling, stifling, and doxing. Trolls that use doxing use all of their computer power, they threaten to put private information out on the internet unless given payment. Moreover, she told a story on stifling, where a person called in a swat team as a joke, who thought someone was being threatened in their home, but in one case resulted in the homeowner being shot accidentally. Furthermore, she discussed traits and myths about online harassment. Trolls exist to make themselves feel empowered, its about social dominance orientation.


There are different ‘flavors’ of trolls, with various ways to respond to each confronted with. “Lulz”, are trolls for fun, they are narcissistic and opportunistic. The best way to deal with them is to out-troll them. “Sad Sacks” have social deficiencies, they need attention, and run long cons, don’t respond to these types. “Vengeful Victims” are disempowered, and social justice warriors. In dealing with these types it is best to shower them with kindness.  “Hostile Haters” have an orientation to social dominance and are triggered by their own in group because they feel threatened. “Sadistic Sickos” are sadists, they troll for pleasure and don’t need a trigger, they just want to see people hurt. Stay away from these types of trollers. The best advice Dr. Fox had for us is to not be a troll or a bystander, accumulate reports to stop trolls. Moreover, to always know which troll type you are dealing with before you respond.