Confronting trolls

Yesterday morning, I happened upon a fascinating podcast of This American Life. It centered on the hate spewed anonymously in internet comment sections. This is a piece written by the female writer who confronted a man who harassed her online. His abuse started with a comment section but went much farther. In the podcast, you will hear the woman visit with the man who harassed her. It is well worth the time, as is the following segment on "vocal fry." 

This American Life is probably the most thought-provoking radio show on the air today. 

Why do comment sections inevitably degenerate into hateful namecalling? In part because human nature's worst side is unleashed by anonymity. Beyond that, the internet allows anybody with the ability to type (spelling and grammar are optional) to spew their unfiltered opinions far and wide. Others spew back. The cycle escalates.

Meanwhile, if the above show is an indicator, those who are hateful online are normal people as they move through every day life, greeting strangers, holding doors, helping old people cross the street, whatever. Only when parked in front of their computer do they turn evil. Or, perhaps, only when in front of their computer do they allow the evil which lurks in all of us to prevail. 

I thought of all the despicable email forwards which come from people I once thought were nice. 

The podcast above made me think again about people who seem to have fallen over the edge into hatred, at least if you follow them online. Are they really bad people deep down, or are they just like the troll in the article above––normal, functioning people with normal weaknesses who have found a way to vent, but who do so without any empathy for the people on the other end? 

Face-to-face interaction is important. It is more difficult to dehumanize a person standing in front of you than one who exists only in the abstract.