Taking the Troll Toll

Illustration by Andrew Cortes / el Don
Illustration by Andrew Cortes / el Don

By Aaron Vasquez

It’s easier to discriminate behind a keyboard. Internet anonymity shields people and lets them sound off without fear of being persecuted.

“It can be said immediately with no thought about it,” Communication Studies Professor Lance Lockwood said.

Standing up to cyber-prejudice is still a conundrum. Trying to debate it with an offender usually devolves into ad hominem insults. Nothing gets solved.

The common perception is that the regular troll is some 15-year-old making off-color comments, but a study by the University of Manitoba shows that the average troll is a 29-year-old male who has narcissistic and sadistic tendencies and spends an hour a day actively commenting and “trolling” online web forums. The study showed that most enjoyed bringing harm to others.

With these people often hiding personality traits, the web acts as a safe outlet. The Internet can act like a hub for like-minded people as thoughts bounce around.

This is called the echo chamber effect.

Groups online tend to not have a middle ground, but always rely on extreme ideology, law professor Cass Sunstein said in a Princeton University article on the echo chamber effect.

The white-supremacist site Stormfront.com thrives on echoes. Declared the first Internet hate site, many white supremacists post racial ideology with little or no factual evidence.

In 2008, armed “patriot” groups rose 813 percent, reaching an all time high in 2012 with 1,360 militias operating within the U.S., according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

But the picture is shifting.

Since 2012, donations to Stormfront began shrinking. In 2013 patriot groups fell to 1,096.

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“When you ignore a problem it doesn’t go away,” Lockwood said. “But we are definitely getting more involved.”

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