It’s just as much of an addiction as alcohol, drugs or gambling. Dr Zac Turner explains how you can about kicking it.
Welcome to Ask Doctor Zac, a weekly column from news.com.au. This week Dr Zac Turner talks about what drives internet trolls.
Hi Dr Zac,
I’m ashamed to say it, but I’m addicted to trolling people on social media. Just after the pandemic began I lost my job and ended up on Centrelink. I found myself spending more time on the internet, and eventually becoming angry as I watched the world turn crazy.
I was getting so frustrated at the amount of snowflakes in Australia, that I started telling people exactly how I thought about them, using fake accounts.
Now I spend upwards of six hours a day on the internet, harassing people I don’t like. The feeling I get from it is addictive – and helps me deal with my own ‘not so perfect life’.
What’s wrong with me? Am I a psychopath, or do I just need a friend? I’m worried because I’ve heard the government is clamping down on trolls, and may potentially send them to jail.
– Mike, Adelaide
People have turned to stranger things in these times of dire stress, so don’t be too hard on yourself. The fact that you recognise what you are doing is wrong, and you are seeking help is a great start.
There is a line-up of factors at play here in your scenario, and I recommend you discuss many of them with a professional, and a few from a medical and psychological perspective.
I believe the federal government should find trolls on the internet, but send them to therapy for free. More times than not, trolls are disenfranchised men (more often than women) rather than criminals. Your world may have flipped upside down and this could make you feel like you’re taking back some of the control you feel you’ve lost. Often you are projecting your frustration with your situation onto the internet and on others which isn’t cool.
The problem with your situation, however, is that you are currently projecting your frustration through the addictive outlet of social media and the internet. You need to think of it like how someone will drink alcohol when they are upset.
Let’s dissect the psychology of a textbook troll. Take away the context of their life situation and focus on the main attributes.
Internet trolls are typical prototypical sadists. They enjoy inflicting pain on strangers to make themselves feel better or more in control. In the case of a troll, bullying people over the internet brings them pleasure by reducing their own uncertainty.
Any mental health professional would be wary to diagnose you without getting the full picture through a few sessions.
Diagnosing someone in the medical field means that that person fulfils a list of criteria as designated by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – jumping to a conclusion that you or someone you know is a psychopathic sadist without a professional is definitely not the way to go about it, so let’s dissect your question further.
From first glance I can see that you have entered a highly stressful living situation, on top of the day-to-day dealings with the pandemic. You have lost your job, begun taking Centrelink payments and are engaging in unhealthy practices to boost dopamine and serotonin.
I don’t doubt that you are experiencing some level of addiction with trolling. Addiction is most likely attributed to things such as gambling, drugs or alcohol, but in fact, it can be anything. It is the psychological need to do, take, or use something to the point where it is harmful to you.
By causing mayhem on the internet, you find it funny or amusing and therefore are rewarding yourself. Any time we reward ourselves, we start building pleasure pathways in our brains. Following that, we look for similar rewarding stimuli to continue the flow of pleasure.
The problem is that you have to look for more and more stimulating rewards to keep the flow going – which is why trolls often become worse as time goes by.
I recommend you drink a glass of water, take a walk outside and book yourself in to see your GP or a psychologist. Focus on positive avenues of pleasure, rather than hours on the internet in the dark.
Dr Zac Turner has a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery from the University of Sydney. He is both a medical practitioner and a co-owner of telehealth service Concierge Doctors. He was a registered nurse and is also a qualified and experienced biomedical scientist along with being a PhD Candidate in Biomedical Engineering.