Anger. Most of it is momentary. Someone gets heavily stressed and annoyed, they flare up and lash out, they apologise, it’s over. But the Internet has highlighted an altogether different type of anger. It’s not the result of stress, and it’s far from momentary. This is a type of anger that becomes ingrained in an individual to the core. It won’t diminish, even over a matter of years. This is the anger of the Online Hater – a particularly aggressive and abusive type of Internet troll, who will be just as abusive tomorrow as he/she is today. As hateful next month as this.
The individual reasons behind online hate campaigns vary, but there’ll always be some reason. Trolls don’t relentlessly hurl abuse at people because they feel it’s the most productive way to spend their time. It’s a staggeringly unproductive waste of their lives, and deep down they’ll inevitably know that. Indeed, there’s more than a suggestion that the unproductive nature of haters’ campaigns compounds their anger and makes them worse.
As far as identity is concerned, most haters very deliberately shroud themselves in anonymity, so it’s typically difficult to tell who they are. But since, by nature, haters almost always attack recognised individuals, they look like cowards. And they do, indeed, exhibit very cowardly behaviour. This usually provokes the old cliché about trolls “hiding behind their computer screens”, and gives the victim of the hate an instant comeback. But actually, cowardice is a severe vulnerability, which suggests that far from being powerful forces of evil, hater-trolls are in fact small, insecure, insignificant, emotionally vulnerable personalities.
This article is in no way intended as a defence for Internet trolling, but in the end, we’re talking about people who are unsuccessful, cowardly, often isolated and of very limited means, sometimes from recognised vulnerable groups, and sometimes themselves oppressed and/or being bullied. Does that mean they’re entitled to make someone else’s life a misery? Of course not. But it may nevertheless mean they’re much more easily provoked.
Social experiments have shown time and again that when dramatic status divisions are created between groups of people, even if those people are previously good friends, acrimony will develop almost immediately. The low status side of the divide objects to the high status side’s lack of empathy and unwillingness to share. The high status side fails to recognise why the low status side would have a problem, and becomes irritated by the disadvantaged side’s constant complaints, disgruntlement and moping. That’s how it starts, and the animosity is self-perpetuating, self-inflating. The two sides of the status divide blame each other for their own adversities, and in time, come to hate each other.
In the offline world, there are usually some pretty pronounced physical and even geographical barriers between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. So to an extent, it’s out of sight, out of mind. But on the Internet – especially social media – those ‘real world’ barriers disappear. It’s natural for successful people to want to talk about or wallow in their success, and for powerful people to want to revel in their power. But the Internet not only rubs the noses of less fortunate people in that success – it also gives those less fortunate people the access to express their feelings directly to the individuals they envy, resent, or are made to feel inadequate by.
That’s already a recipe for friction, but it’s exacerbated further by organised social stigma. Media groups, advertisers, the authorities – anyone with an agenda and a means to spread messages en masse, will use broad, negative characterisations to get what they want. Newspapers portraying celebrities and people in certain other professions as overpaid slobs. Governments portraying unemployed or disabled groups as feckless scroungers, or unmarried thirty-somethings as social inadequates. Advertisers portraying anyone who doesn’t buy their wares as inferior. It creates self-esteem issues and sets people against each other.
And if you look at hate campaigns across the Web, almost all of them utilise these broad, manufactured, pre-existing negative categorisations to psychologically bash fellow human beings. Some haters even draw on wildly outdated (and by current understanding totally meaningless) Biblical stigma to justify their angry venom. The hate is not born into people. It’s created through unnecessary social and class division, through societal bigotry, though manufactured misconception.
So next time you encounter a hater, think of the bigger picture. Think about where that hate comes from. In most cases the person haters really hate is themselves. They just want to make life more bearable by offloading some of that hate onto someone else. But if those in authority took more responsibility, stopped relentlessly stigmatising, grading, and unnecessarily demonising sections of the public, would that self-hate exist in the first place? I really don’t think it would.