Why Do I ‘Troll’ People on the Internet and How Can I Stop?

I guess I am one of those people you'd call a "troll"—I post mean and insulting things online anonymously to people I don't know. In the evenings, my livelihood is to get on YouTube, find videos by vloggers, especially female ones, and leave comments about them. I make fun of their appearance, insult their intelligence, and call them out if they're gay. I don't even believe most of the stuff I write. Being removed from their lives makes me feel like I can safely degrade them and make them feel terrible about what they're doing and how they're making money. But most of the time, it's not even really about them; it's just funny sometimes to have the power to rile up the crowd of other people watching these videos, because they get so mad! I'm not a mean person in "real life," though. I live with my parents and do lash out at them sometimes, but I've never really been a bully in person or anything. I know it's not right to attack people, and I'd like to know why I do it and how to stop. Can you help? —Trolling for Help
Dear Trolling for Help,

Thank you for reaching out with this powerful question. There are a number of reasons you may be engaging in this behavior, and I hope this response helps you to uncover some of what motivates it so that you can change it.

When behind the computer screen, it’s very easy for people to engage in behaviors they would never do in real life. The anonymity of the Internet offers a shield—some people feel as if they can be aggressive, and in some cases abusive, toward others because they don’t feel as though they are hurting a real person. One strange thing about the Internet is that while we are incredibly connected digitally, we are very disconnected interpersonally. The fact you can’t see the people you interact with online makes it easier to “other” them. When we “other” people, we don’t necessarily see them as real people with real feelings, and that makes it easier to disconnect from the reality that our words can cause actual harm.

There is also a sense of the Internet being consequence free; you are largely anonymous, and unless someone is really motivated to find you, you’re likely to get away with this type of behavior. It is easy to see how slippery the slope can be when these two factors are combined. When they feel anonymous, people often do things they would not do in their daily lives. Those things we do when we feel anonymous are often impulses we have in daily life that are socially unacceptable or that we have been told are not allowed. When you are making these comments and “trolling” people, you likely have at least a couple of people who agree with you, which may make your behavior seem more acceptable. That could be another factor in why this is an issue for you.

The anonymity of the Internet offers a shield—some people feel as if they can be aggressive, and in some cases abusive, toward others because they don’t feel as though they are hurting a real person.

Perhaps the bigger issue here is why you feel the need to engage in these ways. Based on what you wrote, it seems as if you may get a thrill from feeling powerful and feeling as though you can whip up a frenzy just by what you say. That leads me to wonder if perhaps you are feeling less than powerful in your daily life and if this is a way for you to assert yourself. Given that you are also occasionally snappy with your parents, it may be that your life situation is one that causes you to seek power in whatever way you can find it and the Internet is an easy source.

I suggest a few things: First, seek out a qualified therapist in your area with whom you can address these feelings/impulses. Next, whenever you find yourself trolling, take the time to remind yourself that the person on the other end is a real person, with real feelings, real family, friends, and loved ones. There have been cases where people, whose emotional states we simply can’t know, have been driven to extreme despair, even suicide, due to cyber bullying. Given that you’ve reached out for help, which is courageous and admirable, I’m confident you don’t want to be one of the people who contribute to such tragic outcomes.

Please seek out the support of a therapist to find out what’s compelling you and to take steps to stop the behaviors that motivated you to write. It will likely be good for both you and the people on the other side of the screen.

Best wishes,
Lisa

Lisa Vallejos
Lisa Vallejos, PhD, LPC, specializes in existential psychology. Her primary focus is helping people to be more present in their lives, more engaged with their existence, and to face the world with courage. Lisa began her career in the mental health field working in residential treatment, community mental health centers, and with adjudicated individuals before moving into private practice. She is in the process of finishing a PhD as well as advanced training in existential-humanistic psychotherapy, and provides clinical training and supervision.
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  • Millicent

    Millicent

    November 6th, 2015 at 10:34 AM

    You have become the person that you probably never wanted to be and I would guess that this is large part because this is how others have treated you in the past.
    Don’t you remember how bad that made you feel? Now why would you want another person to have to feel that same way?

  • Lisa

    Lisa

    November 7th, 2015 at 9:14 PM

    Is this person serious? How do you stop? Grow up thats how!

  • kayden

    kayden

    November 9th, 2015 at 10:37 AM

    I sort of agree with you Lisa and then I also think how sad it is that someone is taking out their own anger and frustrations on people they don’t even know.

  • manny

    manny

    November 17th, 2015 at 10:53 AM

    There is something that is missing in you that allows you to think that it is ok since it is done anonymously to treat other people this way.

  • Jorge H

    Jorge H

    January 5th, 2018 at 11:19 AM

    Lol, dude just trolled you guys. FFS, dude said he lives with his parents and is a “nice” guy in real life. The bait is so obvious

  • I'maGay

    I'maGay

    February 8th, 2019 at 9:05 AM

    and it’s still hilarious that someone responded to this troll post via email

  • Lakshmi

    Lakshmi

    July 29th, 2018 at 11:02 AM

    I could not agree more, with the person who wrote this request. I feel exactly the same, in every aspect of my life. I feel powerless. I have a completely perfect idea where my life is headed, but there is no way I can alter it. My parents and the society has pressurized me indirectly into taking up a profession I have no idea about. And I am too shy to confront them. I don’t know what to do in life, which makes it even harder for me to protest against their solution. And in this mess, the only way I can vent out and overcome my powerless life, is by taking it out on various people on the internet. This is why I do this. As honest a reply as I can give. I don’t have another option, and I’m crumbling from within.

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