There are times during the day when I dread having to look through the latest posts on the Internet, including social media. However, in my line of work, it becomes a daily necessity to see if I have a possible news lead or if I'm going to end up performing "damage control" after someone posts inaccurate or misleading information.
It also ensures I'm up to speed on major news events that directly affect our community and our nation. The situation involving the Korean Peninsula is probably the best example since that has the possibility of rapidly spiralling out of control.
To be perfectly honest, I enjoy reading posts from my family, friends and former Air Force co-workers to see what is happening in their lives. Thanks to social media, I've seen their children grow up, witnessed the times when they've celebrated major milestones and been with them to help them through the struggles in their lives.
What makes my head hurt so bad at times are the friends of mine that are obsessed with posting stories and links that specifically support their own political agenda.
Many times, it doesn't matter whether the story has any shred of truth to it. If it supports something they believe in, they'll not only want to share the link but they'll also fire off some rather blunt remarks expressing their thoughts.
That's been the problem with the advent of the Internet. It's become the international version of the proverbial "bathroom wall" where anyone can pretty much say what they want without having to directly confront people.
Granted, if we believed everything we read on the Internet, especially on social media sites, the following would be true:
1. Democrats are evil and want to take away our guns.
2. Republicans are evil and want corporations to rule the world.
3. John F. Kennedy faked his own death.
4. Elvis Presley will perform at the next Super Bowl along with Marilyn Monroe.
But there's something even more sinister happening in cyberspace that has me deeply concerned. It involves the growing problem of Internet trolls — the ones who think the online world somehow gives them unlimited power to say or do whatever they want.
On a whim, I decided to look into the issue of trolling to see if there was some type of psychological link between trolls and what they post. It turns out that I was not only right, but what I learned has me even more worried.
Psychologists refer to it as the Dark Tetrad — four personality traits that are most common among people who use cyberspace to harass, bully and verbally assault people. Those traits include the following:
Machiavellianism — A willingness to use the Internet to manipulate and deceive others.
Narcissism — People who use cybespace to inflate their own self importance and over-inflated ego.
Psychopathy — A person who lacks remorse and empathy.
Sadism — A person who finds pleasure in watching others suffer.
Psychologists have indicated that those who display these types of personality traits may suffer from an assortment of mental conditions. In short, many of these trolls are often horrible, self-centered people who want to make others feel like less of a person.
Granted, these folks may not become the next Charles Manson or Ted Bundy. However, the idea that Internet trolls tend to share the same psychological characteristics as a mass murderer doesn't make me feel very comfortable.
After all, when you see the types of damage these individuals have inflicted on their victims, it's obvious that trolls don't care. How many stories have we seen on the nightly news where a teenager committed suicide after being bullied online by someone they knew or by a faceless individual?
Come to think of it, how many more suicides do we need before someone steps in and does something to start caging these trolls? Of course, that alone would likely end up in court because these cyber bullies would assert that they have a right to express themselves under the provisions of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Sadly, they might have a point.
However, as I've mentioned before, it's still illegal to yell "fire" in a crowded movie theater to incite a panic that would harm others. It means that we have a right to say what we want, but with those rights come personal responsibility and a willingness to accept the consequences for our actions.
We're starting to see examples where people are finally starting to fight back. The most recent happened just last week when the Chobani yogurt company in Twin Falls filed a lawsuit against conspiracy theorist Alex Jones after he posted reports online claiming that refugees working there have committed sex crimes and caused an uptick in disease in the city.
In case you weren't aware, Jones has made similar, unsubstantiated reports on his Web site. Those baseless accusations included claims that the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was staged and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were an inside job.
What's scary is that Jones has a cult following of more than 2 million people on one site alone.
Speaking of cults, didn't Jim Jones have a similar following of individuals when they went to Guyana to drink the Kool Aid?
When it comes to the issue of Internet trolls, however, psychologists all agree that to deal with these individuals, the goal is to stop giving in to their demands. Trolls are known to lie, exaggerate and offend someone just to get a response.
But when no one responds, there's no way for a troll to find that self gratification. These troubled individuals simply want to have fun, and to them the Internet is their personal playground.
Psychologists agree that when these individuals no longer get the responses they expect, they tend to stop and move on to another victim.
The lesson? Stop feeding the trolls.
— Brian S. Orban