The power of social media can often be used for good. Social media plays a significant role in uniting the country in protests against police brutality and the rallying cry for justice for George Floyd. Social media is also how we stay in touch with friends and relatives, and it allows us a platform to express our thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
Unfortunately, there is a dark side to the instant communication available to us online. Unless you live with very little internet connectivity in your life, you have probably witnessed the cruelty and ugliness of human nature when it is cloaked behind a keyboard. I have seen this phenomenon play out time and again across various platforms.
I have written about keyboard warriors and the damage they can do before. I asked hard questions, but I am no closer to understanding why some people feel the need to spread pain via the comfort of a keyboard.
We have all seen it play out in some form or another. Sometimes it is random strangers attacking a social media post or news story. Other times, it is family drama or a fight between friends that end up splashed across your social media feed.
Many people would never dare say face-to-face, the things they feel so comfortable spewing from behind a screen. What is it about a digital platform that gives rise to such fake courage?
Those Who Feel the Need to Make Brutal Comments on News Stories
I have gotten better about not reading the comments left on news stories, especially those shared on social media. What should be a gateway to discourse turns into a blood bath more often than not. What haunts me are stories that name names of perpetrators.
No matter how heinous the crime, surely people must recognize that those charged in crimes have mothers, fathers, wives, and children who will one day come across the hateful rhetoric spewed out about their loved ones.
The families of alleged criminals are innocent people who have done nothing to deserve the nightmare they are forced to live when someone they care about is charged with a crime. Let me also clarify that the word charged means accused, not guilty. The whole innocent until proven guilty concept does not apply to the court of public opinion.
What pleasure do these keyboard warriors receive from describing, in graphic detail, what they hope happens to the alleged criminal? Has it ever occurred to you that some, not all, but some of these people are innocent? When they are eventually proven innocent, that rarely makes the front page, if it even hits the news at all.
What Your Social Media Says About You
If you are one of those who think that every angry thought, every perceived injustice, deserves to be put on public blasts, ask yourself why? What do you accomplish by lashing out online? Do you realize that what you post says much more about you than it does about those you are attacking?
Healthy adults learn to talk to, not about, people who have upset them. I can only presume that those who think it is acceptable to call out every perceived injustice publicly are seeking attention. Mentally mature individuals process hurt and then decide on what action to take. Some forgive and move forward. Others decide to address the problem in a way that can bring about change, reform, justice, or make themselves feel better.
Those who rush to a keyboard to enact their form of justice are seeking validation, attention, or revenge. The most troubling part of this new way to attack people is that it promotes cowardice and seldom brings about the desired result.
The Psychology Behind Trolls
Online trolling is a growing problem. According to the Pew Research Center, 40% of Americans have experienced harassment online. Psychological studies have shown that trolls tend to exhibit low levels of empathy, guilt, remorse, and fail to take responsibility for their actions. Not coincidentally, those are many of the same traits associated with psychopathy.
Those who use the internet as a bully pulpit are motivated by atypical social rewards. Creating social mayhem and disruption are negative social rewards that online bullies seem to crave. There is much truth to the saying, “don’t feed the trolls.” Given that the reward is the hurt, mayhem, and outrage they cause, any response gives the attention they desperately crave.
The Difference Between Cyberbullies and Trolls
Trolls can be found in virtually any public forum online, and their overall goal is to cause disruption and chaos to feed their need for attention. Cyberbullies exhibit many of the same traits but have a different agenda. Cyberbullying is much more personal.
Cyberbullies usually know their victims, and their primary goals are to shame, intimidate, and damage the reputation of their targeted victim(s). Cyberbullying is about exerting power and control over another person.
How to Handle Cyberbullies and Trolls
If you find yourself the victim of a cyberbully or troll, the most important thing to remember is that the attack says everything about the keyboard warrior and nothing about you. Refuse to give them the satisfaction of a response.
If possible, block the person and change the settings on your social media to prevent them from seeing your personal information on your profile. Keep a record, such as screenshots, of the derogatory remarks. If the attack escalates, you may need them as evidence.
Use the links below to report the abuse to the appropriate social media platform.
If you are a young person facing cyberbullying, reach out to a trusted adult for help in how to deal with the situation. You can also find help and further resources at StopBullying.gov.