A vast wasteland.

Wasteland-03-Digital-Illustration-by-Atelier-Olschinsky
Wasteland 03 by Atelier Olschinsky

I remember when forums were a thing. So much has changed in the past 5-10 years, with the proliferation of social media and the enormous popularity of Big Brother Facebook, which started its unholy takeover of the Internet in 2008. Twitter is getting almost as bad.

Forums still exist, but most of them are dead or dying. The last one I posted on was about a year ago. It was a political/history related forum that had been in existence since 1997. I started posting there in 1999, and was on-again, off-again for the next 13 years. That forum (as far as I know) is still in existence, but when its only moderator left and was never replaced, the site was overtaken by trolls who proceeded to destroy the site by running off its regular members. Last time I was there, it was a shell of what it once was. There were about 3 intelligent people still posting there. I had to leave; it had become mind numbingly boring and too sad to stick around.

Another forum I used to be active on has about a tenth of the activity it once did. All you can hear is the crickets there now.

I see this sort of thing happening all over the web. The Internet is littered with dead and dying forums. They’re a thing of the past, really a relic of the last century, when the Internet was still new and social media was still just someone’s bright idea. They remained popular during the first decade of this century, but seemed to start their decline in about 2007-8, when Facebook made its debut. As content management systems became easier for the average person to use, blogging gained popularity too. Blogs are probably as numerous (if not more numerous) than forums were 8-10 years ago.

I always liked forums because of the way they were organized by topic, but they did have their problems. Blogging is more appealing and much more creative and rewarding for a writer than posting on forums is. You don’t have to worry about going against the status quo because you have an “unpopular opinion.” You don’t have to censor your language (although I try to use decorum). You don’t really have to worry about bullies ganging up on you or trolls invading or hacking into your site. Moderators weren’t always your friend either; sometimes they even sided with the bullies.

The Internet is a mess with the debris of dead forums, but there’s also a wealth of information on them if you look. It’s fascinating to read a decade-old thread about a topic that interests you, and you might find out some things you never would have known otherwise. Reading old forums is like reading the memoir of someone who has passed on. You can learn so much. It’s incredible how fast history moves on the web.

Nooooo! Not another one!

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Sam Vaknin is not alone. Tony Brown is another a self admitted narcissist who has a self-help forum, “Heal NPD: Ask a Narcissist” http://bb.bbboy.net/healnpd

I took a look around the forum out of curiosity. All I can say from what I’ve seen on the site is Mr. Brown seems a little controversial. Apparently he’s claiming NPD can be cured and his site is meant as an antidote to Vaknin’s pessimism and negativity (Vaknin does not seem very well liked on the site). Has Brown been cured? Something doesn’t seem right. I have no idea who Brown is or where he came from. It’s interesting though.

I read some of the entries from members, who are both NPD sufferers (called NPDers) and non-NPD survivors like us. It’s interesting and eye opening reading some of what those on “the other side” have to say about their disorder. I was intrigued by one NPD poster who said that whenever anyone told her they loved her, she felt like she had died.

God, I love the Internet.

Two kinds of stealth trolls

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In two earlier posts I wrote about online bullies and trolls (not exactly the same thing, but close enough). I won’t explain here how they differ and are the same (you can read the articles which I’ve posted links at the end of this article), but I neglected to mention stealth trolls. Stealth trolls seem benign, but can wreak havoc on web forums and social media. I will describe two types of stealth trolls. There are probably others.

The Concern Troll

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The Urban Dictionary defines a concern troll as:

A person who posts on a blog thread, in the guise of “concern,” to disrupt dialogue or undermine morale by pointing out that posters and/or the site may be getting themselves in trouble, usually with an authority or power. They point out problems that don’t really exist. The intent is to derail, stifle, control, the dialogue. It is viewed as insincere and condescending.

A concern troll on a progressive blog might write, “I don’t think it’s wise to say things like that because you might get in trouble with the government.” Or, “This controversy is making your side look disorganized.

The concern troll’s M.O. is stealth. They appear harmless. In the guise of “concern,” the troll infiltrates the website, seeming helpful, but their true intention is not to help, but to disrupt the community, dialogue or morale on the site. They probably know little if anything about the subject matter and their complaints are of a general nature. Their “concern” makes them feel superior. Concern trolls are probably narcissistic or even psychopathic, and their self-righteous “concern” makes them feel superior. Any attempt to pin them down and explain their “concerns” in greater detail or a request to explain the topic being discussed will usually cause them to disappear, but they’re likely to reappear under a “sockpuppet” account (another handle). The sockpuppet may be more aggressive in their trolling behavior and may even bully individual members or make openly hostile remarks about the site or its subject matter. A troll’s goal is to destroy the online community in the usual manner: by making its members leave the site.

The Triangulator.

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This is a dangerous troll who who pits people against each other by sending private messages containing lies about another user. It’s an online form of the triangulating that psychopaths and narcissists do. They are almost always found on social media and forums. I’ll give a hypothetical example of what a Triangulator does. Let’s say Lisa and Brian are online friends. The Triangulator (let’s call him John) befriends both Lisa and Brian. One day John sends Lisa a PM saying Brian told him that Brian thinks she’s dumb (he never said this). Lisa gets mad and sends Brian a PM saying her feelings are hurt that he went behind her back and told John she was dumb. Brian says he never told John he thought she was dumb, and he doesn’t think she’s dumb anyway. Lisa isn’t sure who to believe, so the trust between her and Brian is compromised. John then sends Brian a PM telling him Lisa thinks Brian acts like a know it all (she never said this). When Brian talks to Lisa and she tells him she never said this, he isn’t sure who to believe and the trust between them is compromised. The Triangulator can destroy a friendship this way, and that’s exactly what he wants to accomplish. By using this tactic, Triangulators can totally break down communication on a site and cause regular users to defect.

Don’t feed the trolls.

Trolls are simply narcissists who derive pleasure upsetting and destroying a healthy online community. If you can’t ban them yourself, the best way to deal with a troll is to report them to the admin or if that isn’t possible, ignore them.

Earlier articles about online bullies and trolls:
Internet Psychopaths: the difference between Trolls and Bullies
Internet Trolls are Psychopaths

Internet psychopaths: the difference between trolls and bullies

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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-tough-guy-troll

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:
–newbies
–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.

Internet trolls are psychopaths

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There’s a very interesting website I found called SociopathWorld. Little if no distinction is made there between sociopaths (more likely to have APD and be impulsive) and psychopaths (NPD and more likely to plan out their actions). Most of the activity on the board is by and for the character-disordered, and includes blog posts by psychopaths and sociopaths, both prose and poetry. It’s interesting because it allows the rest of us to have a peek inside their heads. The experience of “getting inside their heads” seems very surreal to those of us who don’t think the way they do. It’s like a visit to another planet.

But even more interesting is the comments. One of the posts was by a non-psychopath talking about her psychopathic child. She was out of her mind with worry and grief over his actions.

Bad place to make a post like that. Almost all the responses either ignored her and kept on bantering about inconsequential things that were already being discussed, or if they addressed the issue she raised, were snarky “inside jokes” about the post or unsympathetic one-line replies.

That got me thinking about Internet trolls and bullies. Forums in particular are swarming with them (I’m not sure why trolls seem so attracted to forums over blogs), and that’s why moderators are needed, to weed out the worst posts and ban them from the forum.

I used to be very active on a political forum, but after several years the moderator quit and was never replaced, and when I went back recently, the forum was overrun by trolls and bullies. Most of the regular posters had left, and the few that stuck around were attacked left and right by the trolls. It’s sad what happened to that site, because at one time it was filled with intelligent and thoughtful people. Obviously most of them were run off a long time ago.

Some websites have a lot more bullies and trolls than others, and a lot of it has to do with the way the forum or site is moderated, and sometimes the subject matter has a lot to do with it too.

There are a few ways you can identify a troll or Internet bully, and I think almost all of these people are psychopaths:

— They rarely post anything original; mostly they just reply to or about someone else’s.
— Their posts are almost always very short.
— Their posts are snarky and filled with “jokes” meant to put a certain poster or their ideas down, or sometimes inside jokes when there is a swarm of bullies present who are on the same page against the non-troll.
— Trying to reason with them never works.
— If they are banned, they may come back under a different handle.
— Never PM or email them your concerns–they can use this against you and suddenly you may find your private message to them posted publicly elsewhere or being made fun of. This has happened to me.
— If you report them, be sure the moderator or admin is not on the side of the bullies; if they allow the presence of the trolls and bullies, that’s a red flag.
— Just like in real life, they will often gang up on a poster who appears to be vulnerable or have a differing opinion.
— They will take offense easily if you criticize them and usually fire back an insult at you.
— They are huge fans of humorous or snarky memes, gifs and photos, and will use these as a distraction away from the topic supposedly being discussed.
— They often go off topic and discuss irrelevant (and usually trivial) things among themselves.
— They gossip openly about past posters.
— They may respond to your comments with a “reaction gif” or meme instead of a real response.
— Some trolls come out of nowhere and make incendiary comments designed to upset the community or individual posters. These trolls are often banned or leave of their own accord.

All these tactics are meant to put the honest posters down, drive them away, or belittle them. Beware of any website where you see these tactics being used. Most of these people are psychopathic or narcissistic.
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“Don’t feed the trolls” is excellent advice, if you must deal with them. Don’t respond to anything they say, or better yet, block them if you have that option.