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Shame and Internet Trolling

Check out my newly published eBook entitled Shame and Internet Trolling.

“Shame and Internet Trolling” is about my life journey through shame and how it led to me becoming an internet troll. The book is divided into three parts. In part one I discuss my life history up until I began trolling as it relates to my experience of shame. In part two I discuss my experience trolling, how it felt and the methods I employed. In part three I discuss the series of experiences that brought me out of shame and internet trolling.

 

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Once a Troll, Always a Troll

I felt like trolling was a waste of time but I was compelled to do it.  That is why I had to get myself banned from the message board.  There should be a rehab for trolling just as is for drug addiction.  In reality internet trolling is every bit addicting as drugs are.  Sometimes I think of all the trolls who cannot force themselves to stop.  It is probably ruining their lives because getting back at these people who wronged them on the message board is all that a troll can think about.  When I trolled I constantly and compulsively checked the board for a response to my posts and fearing a response to my posts at the same time.  It became incredibly draining emotionally and at the same time it took top priority in my life.

I remember being really angry when another poster got the better of me but I tried hard not to let that show.  I am sure Admiralbill was doing that as well but he had a very thin skin so he was not very successful.  I remember how fun it was (and depressing) to get him to blow up.  This point must be emphasized: a troll has to put forth the image that nothing affects him and that he thinks it is funny how his victims cannot control their emotions.  Meanwhile, the troll is a simmering volcano.  So on the one hand there is this aspect of a troll’s personality that really gets off on making other people angry (the limbic system / ego I suppose) then there is this other aspect that tells the troll this is wrong (the prefrontal cortex / super ego).  Meanwhile the troll’s true-self sleeps in the background somewhere.  The deeper a troll gets into trolling (or any addiction) the deeper his true-self sinks into sleep and the harder it will be to eventually wake him up.

I remember being infuriated when someone did not respond to a bait.  At the same time I knew my targets well and was confident they would take the bait eventually.  In fact, that was how they became targets in the first place.  They were so reliable.  I knew Admiralbill was a Republican, ex-navy guy, from Texas.  So I knew that posting any article on any of those subjects would get him going especially if they made any of those institutions look even remotely bad.  The Republican thing was easy because there was always an article on global warming, President Bush, the wars, the economy, the debt etc.  If I was advising a neophyte troll I would suggest he read a prospective victim’s posts and find out the things that define this victim.  Then post an article that puts any one of those things in a bad light.  When they react stick with the issues in the article until they get personal.  When this happens, claim only to want to stick to the issues rather than debase yourself by getting personal.  Of course making things personal is precisely the point but this can never be admitted.  It is totally passive aggressive and dishonest.  It is claiming not to be doing what is obviously being done.  This is the essence of shame-based behavior.

I did relapse a couple of times after I was banned from Sistertrek.  Once I came back with the handle “The Gnostic” but everyone on the message board knew it was me immediately.  They let me stay (I think because I made things interesting) until I got banned a second time.  Every now and then I feel the urge to go back but I think I have got it pretty well under control at this point.  I can see myself easily falling back into that behavior so now when I feel the urge I can usually talk myself out of it.  I am sure one day I will relapse again.  Once a troll, always a troll.

 

Read my ebook Shame and Internet Trolling. Available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iBooks.

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The Psychology of a Troll

I spent quite a bit of time baiting Admiralbill.  I think it was more than five years before I was banned from the website.  By the time that happened I wanted to be banned.  I needed to end the endless cycle.  It drained my energy.  I was constantly thinking of new ways to piss him off.  To this day part of me still hates how mean and self-righteous he was.  It is enough motivation for me to vote Democrat knowing that in some small way it gets back at him.

There is definitely an addictive cycle when it comes to trolling.  First there is the exhilaration of making a smart post that proves my enemy wrong or makes him look foolish.  Next, and this is usually after he responds with something I did not expect or perhaps a thread has gone on too long and both of us look foolish, self-loathing kicks in.  Self-loathing, of course does not feel good.  It inspired in me a new resolve never to take part in these foolish exchanges again.  Then slowly the compulsion to get back in the game reemerges.  All it would take was a Paul Krugman article that I found particularly persuasive and I was back in.  The exhilaration is the drug that for a moment takes away the pain I feel during the 90% of the rest of the addictive cycle.

I can really only speak for myself but I am pretty sure all internet trolls share a common personality type.  They probably work jobs or live lives that are in someway unsatisfying.  They want to feel special and crave attention and respect.  They are highly dependent on the opinions of other people.  When other people ganged up on Admiralbill I felt vindicated and victorious.  When they ganged up on me I felt defeated and humiliated.  And this is really at the heart of the matter, a message board troll feels intense shame.  It is shame that motivates him to shame others.

My original goal as a troll was to get Admiralbill angry and responding to me.  My secondary goal was to get other people to take my side.  On some level I was operating under the delusion that if I said the right thing, made the strategic argument he would admit he was wrong.  He was probably operating under the same premise.

There are three possible outcomes to any message board debate.  One, the other person concedes defeat.  This never happens but I suppose it is possible.  The closest thing to this is that you get the last word in that digs at them and they do not respond.  Two, you get ganged up on by everyone else and your allies run for cover.  This is defeat, although a true troll will never admit this and will argue that he is being treated unfairly or is misunderstood in some fashion.  Three, the moderator steps in and shuts the thread down.  This is actually a relief sometimes.  When this happens the troll can say to himself that he never gave up and fought the good fight (force majeure).  If I got the last word in before the thread was shut down and before he got a chance to respond, it felt as good as any victory.  If my adversary got the last word in, it stung but I could still say it was out of my hands.

As I said earlier when I got banned from Sistertrek I wanted to get banned.  I could not simply walk away and never post again.  My addiction was too strong.  So I dug at the moderators until they banned me.  It worked and that was a few years ago.  To this day I still think about it and hate Admiralbill.  But every day I do not participate in Sistertrek the hatred goes away a little bit more.  I actually logged on to Sistertrek anonymously to see what was going on not too long ago.  The website is basically run by conservatives and they kicked off all the liberals some time ago.  It is a shell of the community it once was.  There are no longer any lively debates as far as I can tell.  This sort of makes me nostalgic for the good old days.

 

Read my ebook Shame and Internet Trolling. Available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iBooks.

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Trolling Methods

Admiralbill (my nemesis on the Sistertrek message board) had many, easy buttons I knew how to push that would easily bait him into an argument.  All of his buttons revolved around the fact that he was a rabid, George W. Bush defending, Fox News watching, Rush Limbaugh listening, conservative Republican.  The following is a list of those buttons:

1.         I would post a news article that tended to put the Republican / Conservatives in a bad light.  I would add no comments but simply sit back and watch the debate unfold.  This was obviously intended to push Admiralbill’s buttons but I could always argue that I thought the article was interesting and might stimulate a healthy political discussion.  It had the effect of putting him on the defense because he felt compelled to respond to it.

2.         I would then keep him tired and on the defensive.  I did this by responding quickly and concisely.  In general (not just with Admiralbill) when I did post commentary I would keep it short and only address one particular point.  I always found it funny when other posters got so worked up over something and took the time to write a long drawn out diatribe responding to every single point in a previous post.  I would just choose one point to refute or agree with.  This had the effect negating all the work the diatribe attempted to make.  I conserved my energy with small posts that took me ten minutes to craft they exhausted themselves with long ones that took an hour.  The longer they take to respond, the more rest I have and the more agitation they felt to get a response out.

3.         I usually asked questions in my responses.  This also put Admiralbill on the defensive because he felt compelled to respond to a direct question and the question framed his response.  Thus he never set the tone because he was always responding to the tone I set.  These questions also had the effect of pissing him off.  I naturally asked questions to begin with not thinking this was strategy but once I realized he did not like it I did it more.

4.         If Admiralbill accused me of baiting or trolling I would always deny, deny, deny.  This is probably the most important tip for any would be troll out there.  Nothing angers other posters more than when someone refuses to recognize the obvious.  Instead, I would argue that I had no intent to bait but rather to stimulate interesting and civil debate which he was ruining by resorting to personal attacks rather than addressing the issues.  I also specifically stated at times that I did not want Admiralbill to respond in specific threads to avoid conflict.  Of course this had the intended opposite effect.

5.         I definitely had my share of enemies who sided with Admiralbill or saw me as a trouble-maker but I also cultivated allies on the board who could take some heat off me if I was boxed into a corner.  Then when Admiralbill focused on the other guy I could attack back and undermine him.  Even if a person has the moral high ground, it is difficult to get frustrated if two or more people are against that person on a message board.

 

Read my ebook Shame and Internet Trolling. Available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iBooks.

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Internet Trolling is Addictive

I have an addictive personality.  I think this is common among people who have shame-based personalities because to a shame-based person there is generally no escape from shame.  In the shame-based mind there exists a constant criticizing voice.  This criticizer (the super ego) criticizes both the self and the outside world. To the shame-based person these two aspects of the criticizer seem separate.  In fact, they are one and the same.  The self is constantly at fault and the world is constantly acting against the self.  With shame, the self criticizes the self as an attempt to align the self with the outside world in order to be accepted.  Ironically, this self-criticism only perpetuates the self’s isolation and alienation from the outside world.  This dynamic also demonstrates the fractured and conflicted nature of the shame-based mind.  The shame-based mind hates itself for being flawed.  It also hates the outside world for shaming it.  At the same time it wishes to be accepted and loved by the outside world even though it feels unjustly persecuted by the outside world.

This isolation and self-criticism feels bad both mentally and physically.  It can manifest itself in anxiety, depression, irritation, a lack of energy and a general dissatisfaction with life.  In the moment this feeling can only be tolerated for so long before the self (the ego and the limbic system) seeks to shelter itself.  This is where addictions fit in.  Drugs, alcohol, skin picking, pornography, masturbation and internet trolling all act to distract the self from the psychological pain caused by shame and self-criticism.  This distraction is a short-term fix but while the fix is working it works well.  Soon after, however, the criticizer reemerges and now has something new with which to criticize the self.  This time the criticism is shame for giving into addiction.  And so the cycle continues.  The shame builds up until it is intolerable and the mind seeks its addictions to quell the shame and so on.

Because the internet troll is shame-based, he takes particular delight in shaming other people.  This is his revenge against the world that has unjustly persecuted him.  He criticizes other people for their religion, their politics or personal habits.  At least in part, the troll sees himself as being in the right because to a shame-based person civilization is upheld through shame because in his way of thinking, shame is the only thing that will cause a bad person to act lawfully and appropriately.  When a troll lobs an effective zing that shames another person there is a moment of exhilaration.  This is the payoff but this is typically followed by shame for being a troll and not being able to control his behavior (giving in to addiction).  Often other people on the message board or comment section gang up on the troll.  This exacerbates the troll’s feeling of shame.  At this point the troll will swear off trolling in his mind but eventually the urge to troll will reemerge and the addictive cycle repeats itself.  It is important to note that the troll will often talk as if his point of view is very well thought out and he is crusading for the truth or some such.  In fact, the motivation to troll is only the addictive, short-term rush he gets from shaming another person.  The troll’s personal beliefs are ultimately secondary.

 

Read my ebook Shame and Internet Trolling. Available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iBooks.

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How My Shame Journey Opened the Door to Trolling

One day the partner in charge of the document archive called a meeting of the entire staff in the conference room.  This included the Staff Attorneys, the paralegals and the secretaries.  He announced that the document archive would be closing by the end of the year.  I remember he had a smile on his face perhaps expressing that this burden he had been assigned was finally over.  For the Staff Attorneys this was a chilling message.  We all knew these jobs were not career path jobs and the tobacco litigation would end at some point.  On the other hand we had settled in to our well paid, low stress positions.  Because we had been only performing document review we had no real attorney skills.  So, any attempt to transition into another “real attorney” job at a different firm would be difficult.  The prospect of unemployment scared me.

Fortunately the partner who ran the document archive advocated for the Staff Attorneys to other partners at the firm.  One partner for the New York office needed a staff to draft answers for litigation involving a well known pharmaceutical company that had made a drug that allegedly caused heart attacks and strokes.  The New York partner was a bit of a marshmallow in stature from too many years sitting behind a desk and eating at high end restaurants.  His personality, however, was direct and to the point.  There were thousands of plaintiffs filing suit against this pharmaceutical company all across the country and each of these suits required a document called an “Answer” responding to all the points in the “Complaint”.  What this meant for me was not that I would be using my legal skills to draft these answers.  It meant I would be looking at the form answer drafted by one of the associates.  The form answer contained different ways of denying every point on the complaint.  Even simple factual points such as the pharmaceutical company was located in a particular state.  I would be cutting and pasting answers from the form into the new answer I was drafting.

The work was mindless and at a certain point there was not enough work to go around.  I remember billing an entire day to draft an answer that probably took me fifteen minutes to complete.  I did not like being in this situation.  The law firm required me to bill a certain number of hours per year but then did not provide me with enough work to meet that billable requirement.  Nor would they allow me to perform real attorney work because I was a Staff Attorney.  As such, I could be honest, bill a few hours and be fired or I could be dishonest and pad my hours, keep my job but feel guilty about it.  I wanted to work but I wasn’t allowed to.  It was the lawn mower issue all over again.

I became anxious and depressed.  My marriage suffered.  I spent my days arguing with a co-worker through long email chains about whether God was real or not.  I surfed the web.  It was there and then that I discovered a certain website called StarTrek.com.  I start posting on the message board and became a member of the community.  When the members migrated over to another website called SisterTrek.net, I did too.  And so began my foray into the world of internet trolling.  I had a shame-based personality.  I was anxious and depressed because of my job.  I felt overpaid, useless and stuck.  Finally, I had unlimited access to the internet.  That combination of situations made it impossible for me not to troll.

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I Have Darkness and Light

Inside me there is both darkness and light.  It is the darkness that gets joy out of fucking with people on message boards and it is the light that has compassion for my children (for example).  After I fuck with people on message boards I feel bad.  It might be tempting to say it is the light that is making me feel bad for doing wrong.  That is morality.  But really this is my darkness now turned on me.  My darkness loves to fuck with people even if (or even especially when) that person is me.  Fucking with someone in this context means deriving pleasure by making another person feel bad.

The darkness is cowardly, dishonest and hides itself because it feels ashamed at its core.  It makes sense that darkness thrives on the anonymity of the internet.  To alleviate the pain of shame it acts out on other people, deriving pleasure by making them feel bad.  The darkness pretends to be the light by espousing morality and punishing immorality but what it is really doing is shaming other people and deriving pleasure from it.

By contrast, the light has compassion, forgiveness and acts wholeheartedly.  Several Bible verses come to mind. In Genesis the first thing God says is, “let there be light.” (Gen 1:3).  Then God separated the light from the darkness.  (Gen 1:4).  In John, Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”  (John 8:12).  Paul speaks of love but I suspect love in this context is the same thing as light.  “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”  (1 Cor. 13:4-7).

It might be tempting to say that labling the good part light and the bad part dark is a way of avoiding blame.  It is a way of saying that I am not responsible for my bad actions but rather the fault belongs with the darkness.  I think this is a message from the darkness which tries to shame and cast blame.  I think recognizing and accepting the darkness inside me is recognizing the truth and thus embracing the light.  When I recognize the darkness and how it acts inside me I am better able to stop myself before I act out and act from a place of honesty and light rather than shame and darkness.

 

Read my ebook Shame and Internet Trolling. Available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iBooks.

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