If you have been around social media at all (and face it – who isn’t these days?) you have likely come across an internet troll1. You know, someone who seems to thrive on annoying the rest of us who are content to go about our business calmly and collected.
Those of us who engage online in political discourse are particularly susceptible to online abuse and harrassment, be it with a conservative perspective or that of a liberal/progressive. And let’s be honest, most of us find the idea of a Second Amendment loving conservative more frightening than the alternative.
The problem these days is there is no way to know for sure if someone is merely being a nuisance or has the potential to cross into the threshold of being dangerous. As they say, “crazy does not have a sign on its forehead.”
Psychology Today published a disturbing report last year, citing two online studies with over 1,200 people. The studies “were looking for evidence that linked trolling with the “Dark Tetrad2” of personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism.”
Finding these traits to be overwhelmingly prevalent in those who profess to enjoy internet trolling, the authors of the study wrote in their paper:
“… the associations between sadism and GAIT (Global Assessment of Internet Trolling) scores were so strong that it might be said that online trolls are prototypical everyday sadists.” [emphasis added]
Psychology Today goes on to note that: “Researchers are finding that the Dark Triad underlies a host of undesirable behaviors including aggressiveness, sexual opportunism, and impulsivity.”
[P]eople who show these qualities are trying to get away with acting out against others in order to achieve their own ends. Each of the individual qualities alone can make life difficult for those who know people like this. Combined, the Dark Triad traits in another person close to you can be detrimental to your mental health.
People who score high on the traditional Dark Triad measures that test each of the three qualities separately show a pattern of behavior that in fact combines the worst of all worlds. They seek out multiple, casual sex partners. When someone gets in their way, they act out aggressively to take what they want. Oddly enough, although their self-esteem doesn’t seem to be either higher or lower than others, people who score high on the Dark Triad qualities have an unstable view of themselves. Perhaps reflecting the aggressiveness inherent in the Dark Triad, these tendencies are more likely to be shown by men, particularly those who are high on psychopathy and Machiavellianism.
A case in point is the elderly couple in Georgia who were murdered trying to buy their dream car from Craigslist this January. More recently there is the tragic case of Michelle Wilkins, pregnant 7 months, who was stabbed and had her baby cut from her womb while responding to an ad on Craigslist for baby clothes on March 18. She was only released from the hospital today and God only knows the years of anguish and healing that lie before her and her family and friends.
The sad truth is that none of us are really safe any more. With the advent of social media our personal and private information is scattered randomly about the internet – ripe picking for anyone with a grudge, a taste for the despicable and a little bit of internet savvy.
That being said, here are a few steps you can take to better insure your safety – online and in the real world.
10 Ways To Protect Yourself And Your Children Online
1. Keep your pages private. Only allow family, close friends, or designated people to see your information.
2. Don’t share information regarding school or work. Many people share detailed information regarding their school or work on the profiles. Don’t do it! This is information that an online predator could use to discover your whereabouts.
3. Tell a relative your passwords and usernames. You should feel safe sharing this information with a close family member and they should respect your wishes to only log onto your account if it could save your life. This will help them get information to the police if a predator tries to attack or take you.
4. Be wary of strangers. Don’t talk, add or chat with people you don’t know and have never met. Just because you have heard a name or share a mutual friend does not mean that person is safe, so block them and don’t communicate with them.
5. If a stranger attempts to contact or add you online more than once, tell a friend or family member and tell them the name and any other information you might know about this individual. Don’t delete what the stranger sends you. If something happens to you, they may need that information to track them and save your life.
6. Tell your family or friends everything. If you have a dating page, a friend page, whatever websites you have a page on, let your family and friends know. Secrets only work to help predators take lives. Having a friend or family member with this information could save your life from a potential predator or in the event you are abducted.
7. Do not use your real information. Do not provide people with your real name, address, phone number, email address or any other information that can help someone identify who you are or where you live on your pages.
8. Don’t share details about your daily routine or anything too personal online. Your family, friends and co-workers already know about you and don’t need to see your personal information online. Details regarding special events like parties or birthdays should be shared over the telephone or email, not online. Don’t use check-in apps like Foursquare to post your exact whereabouts online.
9. Use a good password on all your accounts and devices. The two most important account passwords to protect are for your social media accounts and your email account. If a hacker gets control of your social network, he can obtain information about you from your friends, or attempt to get their personal information. If a hacker has your email password, he or she can reset the password on all your other accounts by using the ubiquitous “forgot my password” link.
10. If you have children, take the following precautions to insure their safety:
- Put the family computer in a common room, not in a child’s bedroom.
- Educate children about online predators. Make sure they feel comfortable talking to you if someone approaches them online.
- Teach children to never leave a chat room’s public area to enter a private chat room.
- Young children should not use chat rooms, but if they do, make sure you monitor which ones they visit and who they talk to.
- Teach children not to respond to instant messages or emails from strangers.
- Create a family email address, and make sure children use that instead of a private email address.
- Consider installing parental control software that monitors instant messenger and chats for explicit language. The GetNetWise Web site can help you compare features on different software packages.
- Teach children to never share any personal information online.
- If your child has a profile on MySpace or another social networking site, go through their list of friends and make sure they know each person in real life. Also, make sure that they have not posted any personal information on their profiles.
- Make sure your child understands that they should not meet with anybody they have met online unless you are present.
- Familiarize yourself with Internet chat code. Kids sometimes use these acronyms to hide what they are saying from parents and teachers.
- Teach children not to download images that strangers send them online since they could contain pornography.
- Have children choose a gender-neutral screen name for instant messaging and chat rooms.
An Internet troll is someone who comes into a discussion and posts comments designed to upset or disrupt the conversation. Often, in fact, it seems like there is no real purpose behind their comments except to upset everyone else involved. Trolls will lie, exaggerate, and offend to get a response.
2. Otherwise known as the “dark triad,” Psychology Today offers the following definition:
Lurking beneath the surface of people who use others to their own advantage is psychology’s “Dark Triad.” Defined as a set of traits that include the tendency to seek admiration and special treatment (otherwise known as narcissism), to be callous and insensitive (psychopathy) and to manipulate others (Machiavellianism), the Dark Triad is rapidly becoming a new focus of personality psychology.
Internet Trolls Are Narcissists, Psychopaths, and Sadists .., https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-online-secrets/201409/internet-trolls-are-narcissists-psychopaths-and-sadists (accessed March 26, 2015).
Shedding Light on Psychology’s Dark Triad | Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201301/shedding-light-psychology-s-dark-triad (accessed March 26, 2015).
How to Be Safe from Online Predators: 13 Steps (with Pictures), http://www.wikihow.com/Be-Safe-from-Online-Predators (accessed March 26, 2015).
Ten Tips To Keep Kids Safe Online | Norton, http://us.norton.com/kids-safe/article (accessed March 26, 2015).
Keep your kids safe from online predators, http://www.mysecurecyberspace.com/articles/family-room/keep-your-kids-safe-from-online-predators.html (accessed March 26, 2015).