SIO4: Trollology 101

In this episode I am joined by Scott and David. We discuss some of the science behind the rise in internet trolling. They share their ideas about the ways psychology, sociology, and our ever increasing dependence on technology for socialization; have led to more trolling. We also discuss some other behaviors and traits that correlate with online trolling, some of the possible origins of these behaviors, and speculate as to what can be done about it.

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5 Replies to “SIO4: Trollology 101”

  1. Are you sure Millennials aren’t just lazy as fuck? I was. In high school I played in two different bands and took lessons from two different guitar teachers and my friends were scattered across three different towns in the Denver Metro area. I loved being chauffeured around by my parents and my friend’s parents. My parents made me get a driver’s license. And then they made me pay the difference in the car insurance—and buy my own gas. Shit. At 17, things got real.

    Maybe Millennnials don’t have anywhere they need or want to be, like you were saying. Can you Skype band practice? If you got good at that maybe you could Skype a concert or a bar-mitzvah or a wedding reception. We mostly played frat parties, ’cause we were cheap and so are frat boys. I guess nowadays you could Skype into a frat party and drink yourself sick in the privacy of your dorm room. Hell, why not Skype into college; who needs a dorm? Then throw up in the comfort and safety of your parents bathroom like you’ve been doing since you were born instead of on the stairs leading out of the basement rec-room at the frat house that the high-schoolers in the cheap cover band are going to have to carry their equipment over on their way out when the party’s over.

    On the other hand, Millennials might have gotten it right . . .

  2. Hang on! Addictions are just caused by people lacking something in their life? Where has that come from?

    Apart from it sounding eerily similar to the “god shaped hole in my heart” that my mother keeps referring to, it also is counter to almost everything that we know about how addictions work.

    Addictions are often heavily dependent on an individual’s brain chemistry, so unless the “thing that they are searching for in life” is a prescription from a psychiatrist then he is very wrong about this. It is literally a perfect example of a “just so story”. I hate to go all ad hominem here but now I have to doubt the rationale underpinning the statements made regarding topics I don’t know about.

    1. Is there a pill I can take or a chelation therapy or something to re-balance the chemicals in my brain and relieve this addiction to atheist and ex-Mormon podcasts? It’s getting serious. My children are crying to be fed and I can’t get my ass out of this chair.

    2. I bristled slightly at this as well.

      To some extent, I think the statement can be taken to have some validity though. While you rightly point out that there is a chemical component to “addiction” (e.g., reduced dopamine levels in response to use of substances, which in turn results in cravings and withdrawal symptoms), I believe this tends to be a temporary state, which can be mediated by refraining from use for a given period of time, depending on the substance.

      That said, you’re also right to imply that there are genetic and physiological differences in the brain which can be activated and strengthened by use of substances. As I understand it, there are particular pathways and connections that become strengthened through repeated use, which are perhaps more prone to becoming strengthened when substances are used during adolescence. To the extent that the “chemical imbalance” may be resolved by prolonged abstinence, those pathways can remain strengthened, and as such, can leave a person more prone to relapse.

      That said, I think it’s important to recognize the behavioral aspect of substance use disorders, as well as the physiological response our brains have to “non-substances” which can become habit-forming (e.g., gambling, internet, pornography). I think we can all recognize that masturbation has a profound, acute chemical effect on the brain (i.e., releases neurotransmitters), but more subtly, things like e-mail notifications, flashing lights, and little sounds can become associated with a similar release.

      The really simplified way it was explained to me is that dopamine correlates with craving and serotonin relates to pleasure. In this (again, super simplified) sense, the notification releases dopamine (creates a craving) and checking the e-mail releases serotonin (satisfies the craving).

      To say that a person’s proneness to addictive behavior is the result of them not having something else in their life may be dangerously oversimplified, however, if we can grant that someone might focus on internet use in an attempt to attain some of the things that help people thrive (e.g., validation, acceptance, respect, et al.), and then as a result of this, end up activating these more “addictive” aspects, and in doing so end up struggling in other life domains, I think the claim can be somewhat substantiated.

  3. I think I made a similar comment on an earlier episode, but I want to challenge this idea of people having a “real” self and a “performative” self that we switch between given different contexts. I agree that we have different “selves” which we inhabit in different contexts, but I don’t find it helpful to conceptualize any of these as not, in some way, performative, or not, in some way, authentic expressions of us.

    Who you are, when you’re with a parent, a sibling, a child, a best friend, a pet, or an intimate partner may differ drastically, but those bonds, feelings, and experiences are all genuinely aspects of you, and they don’t become invalidated simply because you don’t experience them identically in these various relationships. At the same time, aspects of these relationships are also performative. Maybe you curse less around a parent, you don’t vent about your shit job making you feel like a failure with your child, and you feign interest in your partner’s story about something that happened at work, despite not knowing any of those people, because you recognize that it’s important to them to be able to share their experience with you.

    Even that may be too simple an interpretation, because there are times in all those relationships when you’re going to feel more and less authentic based on any number of reasons.

    Specifically addressing the notion that we are more authentically us when we are alone, I don’t see any real weight to this argument. Firstly, we’re not actually “alone” when we’re alone at the keyboard, responding to some comment on a podcast webpage. As I write this, I’m not only aware of a potential/imagined reader (hello), but I’m cognizant of my actions, and capable of asking what sort of person I’d like to be. In many ways, writing is a highly performative act, requiring that I distill so much intention into a representation of my thoughts for the expressed purpose of making them accessible to others.

    Further still, isolation is just another context for us to relate to. There’s a sort of Thoreau/Into the Wild/Kafka inspired fetishization of isolation as a more valid experience, which at times swerves into a sort of poetic solipsism, but there’s also the environments in which these works were written to consider. In an evolutionary sense, it’s supposedly a relatively new occurrence to be alone. I don’t want to argue for a simple kind of naturalism, but the idea of finding an existentially fulfilling answer to the question of “who am I?” being more likely in this trendy new thing called “alone” feels, to me, a lot like trying to decide which car to buy based primarily on which has the most new-car smell.

    Maybe a more succinct way to ask the question is, would you consider someone who’s spent ten years in solitary confinement a more genuine, real, actualized human being? If so, why do so few people seem to thrive in that environment?

    There’s something in the notion that the internet has shifted the idea of public and private personhood. I’ve had this thought about commenting on facebook posts. I’ve friended certain podcasts hosts who’ve encouraged fans to do so, and when they post about issues or their shows, I feel comfortable commenting or reacting. However, when someone posts on their wall, or when they comment on someone else’s post, I remind myself that this may not be a conversation I’m welcome to add to. I don’t want to speak for Dustin, but to some extent I felt this was a relevant piece of why he felt confident commenting on your facebook post about what you were feeling in the same way he might comment on a topic you present on your show (that’s not to say it wasn’t, or wouldn’t have been, trolling regardless).

    Do we draw a distinction between trolling on a public forum v. e-mail only accessible to the target and the troll? Much like hate-mail and harassment, publicly ridiculing, humiliating, and antagonizing others isn’t a new occurrence. I can’t point to any examples off the top of my head, but I feel confident I’ve heard historical accounts of academics, writers, and politicians waging what seem to fit criteria for troll-campaigns on rivals.

    More generally, satire, political cartoons, and graffiti have existed for at least a few years now. To some extent, we might be able to differentiate humorous political critique from trolling for its own sake, but I also have to wonder how much of that is the result of us conceptualizing history as a pointed sort of progression without recognizing the staggering amount of dicking around that must have taken place.

    As for reacting to trolls, I’ve just started reading The Way of Strangers by Graeme Wood. In an interview, the author discussed the ways to combat radicalization in Islamic state terrorism, and one of the main take-aways seemed to be that what seems most effective is to counter the ideas that they will achieve fame, adoration, and further their cause by participating in terrorist acts, and to convince them that dying for their cause is a meaningless act which will be quickly forgotten. In some ways, this seems applicable to trolls, in so far as their motivations seem to overlap.

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