In my last post about Internet trolls and bullies, I failed to make a clear distinction between the two, but there are differences. They do overlap, but one can be a bully without being a troll or even a psychopath (though all trolls are also bullies and probably all psychopaths).
I started to explain the difference in the comments section, but decided the distinction was important enough to write a post.
Internet trolls are more likely to appear singly (or sometimes as a group) and invade a website or forum with incendiary comments, insults against members or the entire community, and use profanity and namecalling to intimidate the regular posters. Their intent is to destroy the forum or website by running the regular members off. All too often it works, as what happened with the political forum I discussed in my earlier post, where at first the occasional troll would be quickly banned by the moderator and the forum would go back to normal. Once the moderator left and no replacement was made, trolls realized they would not be silenced and could stir the pot all they wished without any repercussions. Forum members tried attacking the trolls, but this was exactly what the trolls were looking for. Soon more trolls joined, and as of now the forum is nearly dead and almost all its regular members have left. Sadly, on that site, the trolls have won. Because their primary intent is to upset or run off the members and ultimately destroy the site, trolls are psychopathic in their behavior.
Like real life psychopaths, trolls will occasionally “love bomb” the site or its members, in order to gain trust and avoid getting banned before systematically destroying or damaging the site. Whether or not they act this way off the Internet doesn’t really matter. Most serial killers act perfectly normal when going about their daily business (John Wayne Gacy was an upstanding citizen, a respected businessman and philanthropist, and entertained children in hospitals dressed as a clown), but have a “secret life” that involves killing for pleasure. A troll is like the cyber version of a serial killer–probably perfectly normal acting off the webs, but using the Internet as a means to murder ideas and honest discussion and debate. In both cases, their intentions are destructive and evil. They also have in common a taste for sadism: both trolls and serial killers love witnessing the destruction they create and get pleasure from making others suffer.
Internet bullies are more common than trolls, and are especially common on forums and social media, where they can easily gang up on one or more members they disagree with or perceive as vulnerable or sensitive. Because they operate in groups (or more aptly, swarms), just as on a school playground, there is probably a “ringleader”–a central bully that eggs on or coerces others to join in the bullying behavior. The ringleader is almost certainly psychopathic or narcissistic and derives pleasure not only from making a target suffer but also from the admiration and respect they gain from their sycophants. Lesser bullies who join the fray may not actually be psychopaths or even narcissistic. Some may not even enjoy bullying that much, but do so to appear to “fit in” or look cool. They are likely to be very young and probably lacking self esteem, so joining a team of bullies to gang up against a targeted member makes them feel like they’re part of a powerful group. It’s a kind of gang mentality: not all gang members are psychopathic or sociopathic, but join the gang to feel like they’re part of something important that gives them a sense of power and respect they might not otherwise be able to attain.
Internet bullies, unlike trolls, usually agree with the forum or site’s prevailing opinions. Their targets are usually:
–members who appear to be hypersensitive or divulge too much personal information
–members whose opinions are different from the “accepted” opinions on that site.
Bullies, as members of an established online community, are less likely to name-call, use profanity, and make incendiary comments than trolls, but they are more likely to intimidate their targets by using snark, inside jokes, sarcasm, and subtle put downs intended to make the target uneasy without quite knowing why. If the target tries to call them out or ask them to stop, the bullies can easily proclaim innocence or tell the target they are just being paranoid or imagining things. It’s basically online gaslighting and it’s very crazymaking.
One of the most disturbing things bullies sometimes do is stalk their targets online–if one of the bullies has a little technical knowledge or is a mod or admin themselves (or is friends with a mod or admin), it’s easy enough to obtain the IP address of the target, and follow them everywhere they go on the web. They can then copy personal information the target has posted elsewhere and use it against them, either by reposting it on their site or mentioning the information in discussion. Sometimes trolls do this too, but since they’re more likely to be operating alone and not likely to be n contact with an admin who would have the IP address, it’s less likely they would cyberstalk someone unless they have hacking ability.
I hope this has cleared up a few things about the differences between bullies and trolls. They’re not exactly the same but both can create a great deal of havoc and misery for the people who have to deal with them.