Why people are trolls on social media

Why people are trolls on social media

Another question that I frequently get asked is why it is that people, often called trolls in media newspeak (apologies to George Orwell, 1984) write awful things to fellow human beings on social media. Most of the time, although it might depend on the quality of your neighbours, things that are said are not things you’d say to a person when social distancing at the local bread shop.

The Greatest President of All Time, The Donald, may well be an exception to this rule given that he probably would vilify people face-to-face in the same way as he does on Twitter. But he does have a rather unique personality that has considerable fascination for every psychologist on the planet, including me.

In my view, the answer to the question above doesn’t require the wisdom of Freud, Jung or Adler. It is what you might think. People who do this sort of stuff are of two main sorts both of which involve anger. They are the Trumpian sort, although maybe not quite as extreme, who have personality problems and seek gratification by insulting others. Many people I meet are quite surprised that there are humans sharing this planet with us who are genuinely evil and who do evil things. Happily, these are a small minority but some of the so-called trolls are these types. These are flawed personalities who get off on expressing their anger by upsetting people, for a variety of reasons not least of which involves dealing with deep-seated inadequacies. These angry people may adopt violence or aggressive behaviour as a way of life and may commit atrocious acts such as domestic violence and other similar acts on others. Frequently, they will pick on less powerful people.

Such are bullies who project (see psychology of projection) their insecurities onto others by being aggressive, belittling and demeaning towards them in an attempt to make themselves feel more powerful.

Your average troll, however, is just angry. He or she is angry at their miserable relationship with their partner, the job they have (or don’t have now that the plague has hit), the boss, their children, their financial situation, their miserable life. The list could be long but you get my drift.  Mostly, this anger is impotent. In other words, the person won’t express their anger towards their spouse, their boss, the Centrelink manager or any other authority figure because they know that there will be ramifications.

So, they displace it. That is, they pass it onto someone else who has nothing to do with the cause of their anger but who says something which they disagree with. But, instead of being simply contradictory, the full force of the anger expresses itself. Social media is such a great place to do this because the risk of any ramifications is low. It gets even better when two angry people start going hammer and tongue.

Of course, this sort of stuff goes on in life outside of social media and is seen in road rage, in nasty behaviour towards the person at the checkout and even fighting over toilet rolls.