The minefield of free-floating egos...

I tend to avoid online forums at all costs.  Most of my experiences with them have included an unsettling amount of contact with flamers, grievers, and trolls who, for me, succeed spectacularly in making online forums zero fun.

The problem isn't that these people are blunt and abrasive.  That aspect doesn't bother me so much.  Everyone is entitled to her or his opinion and it's my choice as to whether or not I take it to heart.  If I don't agree with something another person says or if I think the comment is mean-spirited or insincere, I can just ignore it.  Nothing is hurt by a person simply stating their opinion, even if that opinion seems ill-informed or inflammatory.

No, it isn't what they say that's the problem.  It's that there are so dog-gone many of them.  I can't even count how many forums I've tried to become a part of that were eventually overrun by multiple incarnations of Beavis and Butthead.

Can anyone explain to me what's entertaining about watching people argue with each other about nothing? Because my observation is that some folks actually enjoy observing trolls at work.  I suppose for some it serves as a form of satire.  And I like satire.  Love it, actually.  But to me what trolls do just comes off as so much sophomoric baiting.

And the ease at which people haul out the name-calling is truly stunning.  I don't just mean names like "fool" or "stupid".  W're talking about the big guns.  Things I don't even feel comfortable typing out in this article.  These are individuals who don't know each other at all and they're brutally attacking one another's characters.  It's a verbal assault devoid of logic, reason, or compassion.  And everywhere I go people seem to eat it right up.

I'll tell you what it looks like to me.  It looks like ego vs. ego.  I mean, all conflict can be seen as that I suppose, but online it's PURE ego vs. PURE ego, if that makes any sense.  Every person who's quick to flame or grieve seems to want the entire cyberverse to revolve around them and if anyone dares challenge their dominion they shall be taunted mercilessly.  It's like everyone online has become the obnoxious French guy in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, except the French guy is actually funny.

So what does all of this say about the vast, mostly English-speaking cyber-community? Is it predominantly made up of insecure people drawn to the lure of online anonymity where they can successfully hide the fact that they really don't think much of themselves? What's going on, in the English-speaking world at least, that creates so many people who rush to the opportunity to safely turn their self-loathing onto others?

Well, recall that many English-speaking countries have cultures that put a premium on exchange-style relationships.  That is, a context where every relationship one has with others is predicated on the selfish needs of each individual, such that the value of any relationship must be determined based upon what each person perceives she or he is getting out of it.  Thus, individuals in English-speaking countries tend to base their value upon how people treat them.  And they are generally quick to strike back at anyone who even hints that they might not be as valuable as they think they are.

So, in an online environment where their value cannot be easily prejudged based on age, gender, or race such people tend to feel as though their value suddenly has the potential to be whatever they'd like it to be, which is very high of course.  Naturally, in this situation they're even more unwilling to be "put in their place".  And from there having the last word becomes the most important thing there is.

That's a pity.  Because learning from one another is truly the most important thing there is.

Ways in which users beginning to police themselves

A hopeful article about the internet changing through the action of it's users rather than through any imposed regulation.

Control p's + q's

Using the internet to spread rumors

This article describes the site "juicycampus"--the purpose of which is to spread rumors about students on college campuses.  Students can say whatever they want about each other, true or false.  The founder, Matt Ivester, defends the site on the basis of free speech.  I think the site could be challenged on the basis of libel.  A recent letter to the editor said that Ivester did not receive a warm reception at Georgetown University--I hope that trend continues.

Dorm rumors

Privacy and Free Speech on the Internet

An in-depth editorial considering ways to deal with speech on the internet. One interesting snippet--apparently Kodak instamatic cameras resulted in changes in legislation to protect privacy.  I'm always pretty wary about any curtailment of free speech, but the anonymity of the internet does add in a somewhat new variable.  I thought the idea of treating an online space as a business space rather than a public space had some merit.

Time for a Muzzle


CNN has a story about how anonymous anger is rampant on the Internet and why it seems to be everywhere. Several reasons include anonymity, power/control, lack of rules, and lack of immediate consequences.

I'd add on to that list. I think another reason this type of "e-behavior" seems to be everywhere is because they cyclically act or speak out their behavior.  If the person acts or speaks angrily, it leads to thinking angrily, which leads to more angry thoughts. Of course, the dilemma is that trolls are most likely not interested in modifying their behavior.


The best analogy I can make for where this kind of behavior comes from is to think about a couple of kids in my neighborhood who are some of the worst behaved kids I know and where I think their bad behavior comes from. Thier parents aren't openly abusive, they aren't especially permissive, nor are they dictatorial. They completely ignore them. I actually snatched the younger one out of an oncoming swing once 'cause his Mom was busy on the cellphone. And this is only one of many numerous examples.

So, I think one big factor is people do not feel attended to. And the second major thing I can think of is that as long as someone in this culture feels "in the right" they feel completely justified in venting all their pent up anger and frustration on the one who is "wrong" (and not even someone necessarily who has wronged them). And maybe even worse than the way it shows up on the internet is the way it shows up on the road, or in sports venues.

Re: minefields

Good points, jaz.

You know, some sociologists suggest that cell phones and iPods and the like are contributing to the creation of a narcissistic culture, where everyone tends to walk around in "their own little world" all the time.  If this is true, it's little wonder that these days kids feel neglected.

Re: minefields

THAT'S a good point... and very a fitting comment for the slow burn of the psyche thread.


My brother and I got talking about the subject of where is all this anger coming from today. (Unfortunately, because we had just seen a man screaming at his wife/girlfriend.) One additional thought he had, was that today people in general don't seem to have a lot of hope (couldn't help thinking of Pandora's box). Then we got to wondering whether hope could be generated by the right kind of project--something like changing energy consumption/generation.

As to the screaming guy--I always feel so confused as to what to do in those situations; and I sadly see a lot of them between parents and children. When the screaming is in caps on a website my inclination is to just ignore the person. But when it's in-person I feel conflicted between stepping in and fearing that I will escalate the situation even more. I guess I tend to hang back and observe for awhile. There have been two incidents (both between a man and a woman) where the fight I was watching did get physical and in those cases I called the police.

I was in a car accident last spring when a woman ran a red light and hit my car. She hadn't even seen that there was a light at that intersection and she came screaming out of her car to where I was sitting dazed in my totalled one. Luckily the guy behind her got out of his car and told her she had run a red light. She went from being enraged to being hysterically guilty in the blink of an eye. It was weird 'cause she was in so much pain, I wound up comforting her--telling her it was just an accident; she wasn't a bad person, etc. Rage/Guilt--two sides of the same coin.


You make some very good points jaz.  I'm not sure about the generating hope via energy consumption.  Could you ellaborate on that? Smile


well, heh, yeah that didn't make much sense did it Smile

I meant something like the project to land a man on the moon was in the 60s--but maybe more internationally based and around developing alternative energy sources. I was just thinking with all the horrible stuff going on, it would be nice if there was some area where people could feel progress was being made. Now I realize lots of people are already making progress in that area, but was wondering if there is some way of making more people feel united behind it--like we are all working toward a common good.

Re: hope

What... you mean you don't think fighting global terrorism is a common goal???



Seriously... I think you're right.  Maybe there is something like that on the horizon.  I'm not certain what it is, though.

global terrrorism

yeah, shhhhh don't let anyone know, ...ooops....

I say there is only one

I say there is only one thing to do with such people: Fetchez Le Vache! Smile

More on this subject when I get back--Hi everyone!

Re: I say...


You said it perfectly..

You said it perfectly. I think I know exactly what you're talking about...

My personal opinion about strategies in communicating in online forums, is the absence of being face to face, body gesture, tone of voice, etc.--all in all, (depends how you/if you emphasize you're comments) a lot of times it shows to have very little personality. Which is why "Smile" can be useful. Wink But when someone in a forum makes a comment that others in the forum regard as offensive, in poor taste, wildly incorrect, or otherwise objectionable, the offending participant most likely will be "flamed" by one or more of the other participants. (I have seen exceptions personally where no flaming occurs, instead, others reassure that the "victim" is A-OK and the troll is just being a troll.) But I feel the need to ask, and I think I'm just asking past you.. but what behavioral strategies are adopted by users to deal with the disruptive effects of flaming upon interpersonal relationships via the internet? And how are they different from their off-line counterparts? It's so easy to "get hostile" and set yourself higher than the people around you in a forum, whom most likely you've never met or conversed with before. A troll intentionally posts derogatory comments in a community such as an online discussion forum to bait users into responding. Therefore, the best thing you can do with a troll is ignore them. Not only does it (eventually) ease you're psyche, but if humane enough, ignoring them makes the troll question theirs.

Re: You said...

Well, yes it's true that the most effective way to deal with a troll in particular is to ignore him or her.  I think the same applies to a flamer who’s not really engaged in a conversation with you but who's just jumping into a conversation you're having in order to tell you how stupid they think you are.  But if the person with which you were having an honest-to-goodness conversation starts to turn ugly... well, ignoring this person will not only not work but it will simply be fighting rude with rude.

At this point a well placed apology can work wonders.  The offending party (you) can claim responsibility for the misunderstanding, ask forgiveness, and then allow the offended party to decide if the conversation ought to continue.  If the offended party does agree, then the offending party may diplomatically ask if some ground rules should be set up first in order to ensure that henceforth the offender will only stay in "safe" territory.

Of course, this doesn't always work.  Sometimes the offended party isn't interested in making amends until they've suitably "punished you" for your crime.  I see no reason for anyone to have to put up with treatment like that, so I think it would be fair and reasonable at that point for the offending party to suggest the conversation be picked up again later when cooler heads prevail.  And if the conversation never picks up again... well, then perhaps that's for the best all the way around.

Well, of course I agree with

Well, of course I agree with you...

But, ah, the irony... Smile

Re: Well, of course...

Heh... yeah...Smile

The best laid schemes of Mice and Men

That's so true - and I agree, it really sucks.  It seems to me the internet should be a very powerful, collaborative tool - but you still will never know what really cool things these people might be able to contribute because they're still bound by their hang ups.

You said...

tool...(insert Butthead laugh).

Sorry...I couldn't help it.  One of the reasons I like this site is because of the uncommon intellect that is shared.  It's a very nice place to visit even if you disagree with someone.   

#3 Son

Re: The best laid schemes...

Indeed.  But then, aren't we all... Smile