“Susan Carland, filthy traitor c***. Why are you still in Australia? Go and live with your black pets in their diversity utopia of Africa.”
That’s just one of the many charming tweets I’ve received from trolls on social media. There have been many others too, including the guy who sent photos of bestiality to my Facebook account (ironically while telling me what an appalling person I was), most from anonymous accounts.
I’m certainly not unique in being on the receiving end of online troll-hate – barely anyone of social media can avoid them. They seem to be as ubiquitous as they are annoying, and as bigoted as they are enthusiastic at typing IN ALL CAPS.
Generally, I perceived them as pathetic, arrogant loud-mouths who warranted my disgust. And most of all, they must be ignored.
But someone I spoke to for my series “Assumptions” on ABC RN suggested we should think of them in a surprisingly different way.
Laura Demasi is a social researcher who has investigated the people who are most active on social media and she told me that far from being self-assured grandstanders, the reasons trolls act as they do is because they are actually desperate for attention.
“What drives people to do and say these things which are really controversial and sometimes downright hideous, is usually a kind of craving for attention. And what they’re really looking for is acknowledgement, and validation. They just want to be heard,” she said.
It’s one thing to want attention and validation, but why go for it in such toxic ways?
“You’ve got to say something controversial, otherwise no one hears you, and you don’t stand out.” Laura pointed out.
In a sea of unending voices on social media, the troll was sending out a flare.
I was desperate to know, though, what kind of person does this? Are they happy, well-adjusted types?
“When I met some of these people, upon first meeting, fell into two kinds of groups. The first one was the really outwardly confident type person. But the other half, which was really shocking to me, was that it was completely opposite to the online persona. These people were really socially awkward, really shy, some of them couldn’t look you in the eye, some of them could hardly talk. I think the reason why they’re so attracted to the online world and that context is because they can be brave and they can be bold and they do things that they just can’t do in real life. A lot of them did not strike me as particularly happy people. If you’re unhappy and you’re lonely, these are the people who are more likely to sit online all night, because they’ve got nothing else to do.” Laura explained.