Psychoanalyzing the Internet troll

By lex, on August 8th, 2007

It is always perilous to psychoanalyze at a remove, far more so for the mere enthusiast to apply himself to the task, lacking – as he customarily will – the mind-numbing (not to say soul-destroying) professional jargon to go along with the Pee. Haitch. Dee.

The troll phenomenon is only of cyclical interest to normals and – not least because I apply the term to myself in this instance – I use that definition pretty broadly. But for reasons of my own, and under full awareness that sometimes “naming calls,” my interest is once again piqued.

Not being a therapist myself, I have come to the conclusion that there are two major categories of troll, with multiple sub-categories branching out below them.

The first and most easily dispensed with is the juvenile troll. This is a person who, if he had any actual skill or even a modicum of intelligence and drive, would become one of those virus-spinning hackers that are the bane of Windows-based email inboxes. A trifling step up from those who torture small animals, these are the equivalent of arsonists and vandals, people who get an almost sexual thrill – the real thing being denied them, apart from whatever solitary pleasures are found in the fields of Onan – of seeing it all come down, whatever “it” might be. It’s probably best for society that such people choose the Internet as their playground rather than meatspace, although it’s also probably true that it is the very anonymity of the online environment which enables their angry marginalia. Real vandalism, whatever else you may say about it, does require at least an analytically measurable amount of physical courage – after all, part of the thrill is the knowledge that one might get caught, and (having been caught) suffer personal or professional injury.

Having no fixed ideas of their own and eventually boring even themselves with the manifest evidence of their own inadequacies, most of these people will grow up, get a job, leave their mother’s basement and even form a kind of personal attachment, usually at the working end of a moist and fetid keyboard, exchanging IRC with a 15-year old boy from Cleveland masquerading as a 22-year old female exchange student from Sweden.

But some few will graduate to the next level, and often – rather than sprinkle their efforts about randomly – graduate to stalker status. They will pick a site, gender or genre of Usenet newsgroup, email list or weblog and parasitically affix themselves with terrible – sometimes even frightening – intensity. Walking out on a limb here, I imagine that the primary distinguishing characteristic of the fully mature Internet troll is a sense of overweening Narcissistic grandiosity.

According to the Wikipedia entry on the Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the diagnoses is characterized by, “focus on oneself, and is a maladaptive, rigid, and persistent condition that may cause significant distress and functional impairment.”1 According to a Kuo5hin entry on the Internet troll phenomenon, Volume IV of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (known as DSM-IV) goes on to state that:

The narcissistic personality disorder (is), “A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts….” Some indicative behavior are these:

  • Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  • Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
  • Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
  • Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
  • Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

Come face to face with a wild-eyed, foam-mouthed mongrel snapping his jaws in the air, few of us can be immediately bothered to wonder precisely how the dog became rabid. But for those who take an interest in such things, the Wikipedia entry is again instructive, even as it acknowledges that the precise etiology is unknown:

Some sources suggest that narcissistic personality disorder may be an infantile, defensive personality structure in response to abuse and trauma, usually developing in early childhood or early adolescence. They suggest that narcissistic personality disorder may be a maladaptive defense of the abused child’s or adolescent’s emotional splitting, resultant cognitive distortions, and negative/hostile worldview.

Some think that caregiver deprivation at approximately 36 months of age is a major risk factor for the later development of this disorder. Conversely, some theories suggest that the disorder can manifest itself in people who have been over-indulged and doted on by their parents…

It has been suggested that NPD may be exacerbated by the onset of aging and the physical, mental, and occupational restrictions it imposes.

Proving once again, as if any more proof were needed, that “this sort of thing starts at home.”

Some bloggers will entertain a troll for a time, whether out of some (in my view misplaced) sense of free speech fairness, or perhaps because of the entertainment value in it: Narcissists invariably hold absolutist views (not least of their own importance) and very few absolutist opinions can withstand the sunlight of careful public scrutiny and intelligent engagement.

The ensuing and almost inevitable devastation of the troll’s dearly sheltered assumptions probably feeds his sense – it is almost always a “he” – of aggrieved outrage, even as the attention strokes his sense of self-importance. The important thing to realize is that they cannot, by themselves, stop.

Some moderators will ask that the troll not be fed, while others will ban them outright. Most of the juvenile version will seek their pleasures elsewhere when faced with indifference, but your truly dedicated and mature stalker must either be perpetually tolerated or summarily exiled.

Those sent packing from a listserve, newsgroup or blog comment box will often continue to haunt the premises. You should see some of the “self-directed” Google searches I get, as one or another lost soul looks for evidence of his own existence. Some of these will even start up their own weblogs dedicated to the target(s) of their own peculiar passions. But while there is certainly a market segment attracted to full-time bile and negativity the niche does tend to be rather crowded and it’s hard to differentiate.

When you couple that negativity with the fact that troll is almost always reacting rather than creating – there’s a great deal of psychological projection but often very little “original” content to be found at such sites – the net result is that the troll doesn’t get very much in the way of traffic. That whole “invisible hand” of the market at work.

In any case, some bloggers will ignore such attentions, while others I imagine may resent it. Me?

I think it’s kind of cute.

 

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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, by lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, Lex, Life, Neptunus Lex

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