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Inside the Mind of an Internet Troll

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC 4 Utah) - Have you ever been attacked by a complete stranger for no reason? If so, you're not alone. A recent study shows one in three teens deals with this type of online harassment in a 6 month period. Good 4 Utah’s Kim Fischer sat down with an admitted troll to find out why he does it, and how you can avoid becoming a victim.
Have you ever felt like you were being attacked by a complete stranger for no reason? If so, you're not alone. These people, are known as "trolls." that’s basically a slang word for a person who goes online with the sole purpose of upsetting other people. A recent study shows one in three teens deals with this type of online harassment in a 6 month period. So, what motivates them and how can you stop them? Good 4 Utah’s Kim Fischer sat down with an admitted troll to find out.

Two years ago, Kevin Gillingham found a new hobby, trolling.

"The internet is just full of people with too much time on their hands or people who are looking for a reason to be upset at something and that's where I think I come in. These people are looking for a reason to be upset, and I will gladly give them one," Gillingham said.

Gillingham spends most of his time on news Facebook pages like ABC 4 Utah’s page. His posts can be vile, profane, racist, anything to push your buttons.

"I have been blocked off of multiple news stations Facebook pages multiple times for like 30 day periods," he said.

But he keeps coming back for more. Why? Your pain gives him pleasure.

"I don't care, I’m purely there for entertainment" Gillingham said.

I asked, "So it doesn't bother you that these people are so angry with you?"

His response, "if anything it makes me happy, to know that I can just, with a couple of sentences, ruin someone's day or take time out of their lives to be angry at me about something that affects neither of us. Aw, yes, so much fun."

Gillingham said he seeks out people who get passionate about topics that really don't involve them. If you're showing emotion, you become his target.

I asked, "Why do you get a rise out of that?"

"I’m an attention junkie, I edited that. I love attention good or bad," he said.

That personality trait, also known as narcissism, is one of several discussed in a new study out of the University of Manitoba. Other personality traits include:

Sadism - when a person gets pleasure out of other's suffering

Psychopathy - showing no remorse or sympathy.

Psychologist Liz Albertsen says the study's findings are realistic but she believes there are different levels of internet trolls.

"I think there's a big difference between a person who would be extreme at the end of trolling all the time versus a person who may be frustrated and throw out a nasty comment which still hits home just as hard," dr. Albertsen said.

She also believes some extreme trolls can even move into online bullying.

"Hopefully a troll is generally not focusing on a single person or pursuing them in the same way as the kind of relentless bullying that can happen in other situations," she said.

Unfortunately for Cathie Chansamone, that was not the case. Her online tormenter pursued her daily, and then began threatening her.

"And I thought well what is going on? I don't understand what was happening, and why," Chansamone said.

Cathie met her heckler in an msn support group for people whose children have autism. She went looking for help, but instead found a devious woman who attacked everything she said.

"It got really bad she made some physical threats against me, then she had someone in California make threats against me and that's when I called the cops," she said.

The worst part for Chansamone was that many of the officers she talked with felt she didn't have a case. Then finally, after dozens of calls and emails, Cathie found an investigator who took her situation seriously.

"That’s basically when it all stopped because I think she got scared," she said.

Because of situations like this many online media companies, like m-s-n, have closed their forums, chat groups and comment sections. Gillingham said Chansamone could have saved herself a lot of strife by not showing emotion.

"Do not put you emotions out there on the line because we will just pick at it. For us, it's pure entertainment," he said.

And at the end of the day, whether we like it or not, trolls have rights too. Their words, like yours, are protected by the first amendment. Unless they begin to physically threaten you, you have to learn how to deal with them.

"What’s the best way to handle someone like you?" I asked Gillingham.

"don't interact with us, yeah, just don't,” he replied.

Dr. Albersen said if you've become the victim of an online troll, or you find yourself practicing these trolling behaviors it's important to seek help. Valley Mental Health has a broad range of services to learn more, click here.



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